Let’s Go For A Swim!

This week’s guest columnists are Dr. Kevin Morris and Dr. Richard Pearson, Family Practice residents at the University Health Center here in Lafayette.  Dr. Morris is a former paramedic, and knows of what he speaks:

It’s warming up and sunny, let’s go swimming!  ”Rescue 51, respond to the swimming pool in the Sunset neighborhood, 3 year-old drowning.”  This request no paramedic likes to hear.  Upon arrival, the girl is found lying next to the pool, having been pulled out by her parents.  She is unresponsive and has no pulse.  We work frantically to save her.  The family tells us they were having a reunion, with twelve children and thirty adults.  No one saw her go into the pool.  This potentially tragic event is avoidable, with simple steps.

As temperatures rise, we begin to think about staying cool and having fun.  Both needs are met by jumping in the pool and we’re all for it!  It’s great exercise and play, and gets the kids outside.  And they certainly can’t bring a phone or video game in with them!  However, we all need to be aware of the danger.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every day two children in the US die from drowning, and another ten go to the Emergency Department for non-fatal submersion.  Drowning is the second leading cause of death in ages 1 to 14 years, only behind car crashes.  There are many, easy ways to dramatically improve safety.

One of the most common reasons drownings occur is a lapse in supervision.  We all enjoy the poolside- barbequing, drinking, visiting, swimming, and making big splashes. All this distracts from the young non-swimmers.  When children are there, it’s important for one supervising adult to be distraction-free to watch the kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “touch supervision,” meaning that children are always within touching distance at the pool.

When it’s a party at the pool with adults and kids milling around, it’s impossible for any adult to stay 100% vigilant.  That’s how tragedies like our child above happen, even with a designated watcher.  Therefore life jackets are great for non-swimmers in the group. They are easy to use and really help.  Air-filled toys and “floaties” are adorable and fun, but just aren’t safe enough.

The girl from above had been at a pool that was fenced, but went through the gate unnoticed.  It’s not unusual to accidentally leave a gate open, so a self-closing and self-latching gate may save a life.  Sometimes children impress us with their craftiness and do things we never thought possible, like opening “child-proof” locks. Thus the gate latch should be at the top of the fence where small children can’t reach.  Also, pool fences should be on all four sides of the pool: having the pool open to a patio door invites disaster.  To see what your pool fence and gate should look like, check out hotel pools- many have great fence systems.

One of the best ways to protect children from drowning is teaching them to swim. Kids who have formal swimming lessons are safer from drowning.  Lessons are recommended for age 5 and up, but can be started earlier depending on the child’s maturity. The Boy Scouts have one of the best swimming programs, because it drills kids in pool and water safety as it teaches the actual swimming.

A word about another big group at risk for drowning: teenagers.  Teens, like toddlers, are natural risk takers.  They don’t think ahead, and spend time with their friends at bayous and lakes.  They may be drinking, jumping into unknown bodies of water, boating, and yet not know how to swim.  No teen should be at a pool, lake, bayou, or any body of water without being able to swim.  Talk to your teens about safety- not drinking, wearing life jackets, and not diving into shallow water, or water where you can’t see the bottom. Here in Louisiana everyone has a tragic story about water and a careless teen.

With these simple steps, playing in the water can be much safer for the kids and less stressful for parents.  Get out, stay active, enjoy the weather, and laissez les bon temps rouler!

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