When I was 10 years old, my mom received a devestating phone call from her close friend. Her two year old son had somehow managed to walk into their neighbour's backyard, and fell into the pool. Paramedics arrived as quickly as they could, and the baby was rushed to the Children's Hospital. He was in a coma for days - he was blue and unresponsive when he was pulled out of the pool. Doctors gave my mom's friend almost no hope for a healthy and full recovery for her son. However, miracles do happen. He came out of his coma and is living a healthy life today.
Many children are not as lucky.
Every summer it's one tragic story after another: "Toddler drowns in backyard pool" are words we see time and time again when we read the news, and they are the words we don't want to have to see. Every story I read about yet another drowning is heartbreaking.
According to the Canadian Red Cross, there are over 400 drownings in Canada each year. (A report I read showed that there were over 3,000 drownings in the United States in 2007. 30% being children.) There are far too many horrific stories of young people dying in the water. Even more tragic to me is when I read about children who have drowned who are the same age as my children; it sends chills up my spine, and it breaks my heart in a million pieces.
Drowning is the second leading cause of death among children. This is alarming because it is something you can prevent. The truth is, the majority of drownings occur as a result of lack of supervision. Children who are left alone can easily fall into the pool, and sometimes, they can become trapped by hazards such as the filtration system.
Remember, it only takes a moment. It is not okay to leave your young child outside while you rush in to get the telephone that is ringing inside. Drownings happen suddenly - and drownings are silent. "But I was only gone a second..." is not something you want to tell the paramedics later.
Last year, when my oldest son was 3, I left him sitting on the pool steps without a flotation device on, thinking he was safe, as I started doing my laps. When I was swimming back towards him, he slipped from the steps and went underwater. He was not moving - I couldn't see his face. It was the scariest few seconds of my life as I swam as fast as I could to get to him. I pulled him out, with the help of my friend, and he started coughing and crying. I was so thankful he was okay. And I have never made that mistake again.
Here are some tips to help keep your children safe this summer:
When you're outside with your children, make sure they are within arm's reach of you or your partner - or whoever is looking after them. This summer, my family and I are spending almost every day in the pool, enjoying the water, and my boys, 2 and almost 5, are strong swimmers, with floaties on. My oldest son swims without floaties, as well, but to be safe, he usually wears them in the pool and ocean, and we're always right there with him. Always. Until they're older, they will not be going in the pool without one of us there with them. Flotation devices are very important - and just as much fun can be had in the water with floaties or a life jacket on!
If you are going to put your child in an after-school or weekend activity, make sure it's for swimming lessons. There is nothing more important that having your child grow up to be confident in and around bodies of water - learning to swim is not only a lot of fun - and a great way to get some physical activity - but it's vital for survival, too. I started swimming from a very young age, because I spent summers in Greece, and I took swimming lessons every single year, too. (Until your child is four years old, lessons are more to get them used to being in the water. The real learning comes later on!)
If you have a little wading pool in your backyard, make sure to empty it after each use. Believe it or not, it only takes a very small amount of water for a child to choke and drown on.
If you have a swimming pool in your backyard, I'm sure you have the proper fence built around the pool - double check every night that the fence is locked!
Don't leave the water toys or noodles in the pool or lying around the pool when you're finished swimming - put them away, because toys could attract young children, prompting them to reach into the pool to get what they want.
Above all else, keep an eye on all the children in the pool. Even if you're not a certified lifeguard, you can still pretend you're on Baywatch! Keep counting to make sure all little bodies are accounted for in the pool. And don't forget the sunscreen!
This is National Drowning Prevention Week (July 17 to July 24). Although it's only one week, we should all remember to keep ourselves and our children safe around water year round!
If you have any tips for staying safe in the water, I'd love to hear them, too!