Tag Archives: drowning prevention

How do you cut death rates 17%?

27 Oct

The new CPR guidelines are out with all sorts of fanfare and media coverage. Great news and lots of new research and discussion over a critical tool that could save some of the 250,000 people who die of heart disease each year. But why not the same media focus on preventing the deaths in the first place?  How about this little-seen article with the staggering headline: Analyses: Heart Attack rates fall 17% after smokingbans enacted. (that was within one year and only with public smoking bans). http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-09-21-smoking-bans_N.htm

You all know my feelings about CPR – everyone should learn CPR, period. I think we need a serious re-think on our priorities though, especially when there is limited funding everywhere. Educating and preventing problems isn’t glamorous. It’s like being a parent – a long-term commitment, frequently involving nudging unwilling recipients, not always fun, but with real, positive, long-term outcomes. Plenty of research to support this very unglamorous, non-headline-grabbing methodology.  Educate boys and girl sand civil war decreases, poverty levels drop, economic prosperity increases.

What would happen if teaching water safety and swimming to children were mandatory?  Would the death rates from drowning drop 17% or more in a year?  I think so.  CPR is a crucial tool to save a life, but shouldn’t our focus be on not needing the tool in the firstplace?


How do otters learn to swim?

15 Sep

I was getting in my swim while my daughter had her lesson on Sunday and was watching the parent-tot class in the kid pool. Mostly toddlers, average age probably 18-24 months, and you saw the whole gamut of personalities in that group of 10 kids. One petite little girl was leaping into the water without inhibition or fear. One little boy was far more interested in deconstructing the safety cone blocking off the slide area. Many of the kids were cautiously trying what the teacher was encouraging, although several looked deeply suspicious. One little boy was clinging to his dad, who was having that oh-so-familiar internal battle with himself. “Why is my child the only one who is crying and is climbing me like a ladder to get out of the pool? What am I doing wrong? Is something wrong with him?” battling with “I just want my baby to be safe and I hate to see him afraid and I’d love to just leave, but I know he needs to do this, but should I do this, or maybe it’s too soon?”

The important lesson – every single one of those parents had realized that teaching their child to enjoy the water safely and to begin learning basic swimming skills when they are young is important, and even potentially life-saving. And that dad knew that being there, being calm and supportive, was going to help his little one learn and understand he was safe, if dad was there watching over him.

We aren’t the only ones who go through this anguish. Who knew that otters needed to be taught to swim? And how to be safe? I often watch the otters at the zoo and wish I could swim like them, now I know how they learned – just like we do – with a parent patiently, consistently, age-appropriately teaching, encouraging and watching!


What can elephants teach us?

3 Sep

There is an amazing clip on YouTube of a group of mother elephants saving a baby elephant from drowning.

What can we learn from the elephants?

Baby elephants are adorable.

Mothers will always try to protect and save their children, no matter how difficult the task and even if it involves leaping into muddy waterholes where crocodiles could be lurking.



In praise of lifeguards.

31 Aug

If you prefer to listen to a podcast of this blog, please visit http://web.me.com/rebeccawr63/Site

I recently had the thrill and the honor of spending time with Hawaii’s famed Lifeguards, or ‘Watermen’ (and a Texan who paddles faster than I thought humanly possible). It was a truly eye-opening experience for me. When I say ‘lifeguard’ what do you think? Easy job hanging out at the beach getting tan? Free babysitting at the pool? Baywatch? While it’s true that lifeguards seem to have been pulled from the ‘athletic, fit and good-looking’ section of the gene pool, let’s look at what lifeguards really do, and why they should be called Water Safety Professionals and treated with serious respect.

First and foremost, when you swim at a beach or a pool that has a lifeguard, it’s kind of like having a fireman sit in your front yard in case your house should suddenly catch on fire. Roughly 95% of a lifeguard’s job is prevention. The bulk of their job is to educate the public, tell them the safe places to swim, watch for and warn against potentially dangerous or risky behavior and intervene when they see someone getting into trouble. Around 5% of their work is rescuing people. Clearly it doesn’t make any economic sense to plant a fireman in every yard or station a policeman at every corner just in case a crime occurs, but what would happen if lifeguards weren’t on duty whenever anyone is in the water? I’ll use Kaua’i as an example since I was just there and it has some stunning beaches that tourists love. Kaua’i lifeguards had 144,594 public contacts last year (and that means they were polite, helpful and educating the sometimes rude or unappreciative public who took offense at the intervention). There were 75,000 ‘preventive actions’ and 248 rescues – about half of these involving going out on a jet-ski, sometimes several miles from the lifeguard tower and frequently in rough surf. Over an 18-year period there were ‘only’ 165 drownings in Kaua’i. What if the lifeguards weren’t there? What percentage of those 75,000 preventive actions would have resulted in tragedy in just one year? Certainly almost all of those rescues would have resulted in someone dying.

In case you are thinking, ‘yes, but that’s the ocean’ the same concept applies at lakes, pools, anywhere that people want to be swimming. When you see those high-school and college students at the local pool, they may not have to meet the incredible physical requirements that the ocean lifeguards do (dead lifting 500 pounds and holding it, not to mention the sprinting, swimming, and paddling in the surf all while helping a flailing or dead-weight victim), but each and every one of them has been trained to SAVE YOUR LIFE! Do you know CPR? (you should) They do. Can you handle a spinal injury? They can. Do you constantly scan the water looking for potentially dangerous behavior or just someone too still? They do. Do you go to work every day knowing that you could be risking your life to save another person all while your funding is being cut, your salaries reduced and your equipment needs not always being met? They do.

The next time you swim anywhere – pool, lake, or ocean – swim near the lifeguard, don’t go to those ‘remote pristine (unguarded) beaches in the guide book, listen to the warnings, and, please, RESPECT!


I do not want another child to drown.

13 Aug

I had the great honor of speaking at the State of Hawaii Drowning Prevention Conference today. It was inspiring to be with the Hawaii Watermen and to hear learn more of their professionalism, expertise and bravery. I am grateful for their hospitality.

A podcast of my speech can be found at http://web.me.com/rebeccawr63/Site/Podcast/Entries/2010/8/13_I_do_not_want_another_child_to_drown..html


What is a lifeguard’s job?

26 Jul

Another chorus of outraged voices that a child almost died at a city pool. Her cousin saw her at the bottom of the pool, dragged her out and yelled for help. The lifeguard performed CPR and the child was, thankfully, conscious by the time the paramedics arrived. The overwhelming reaction by the public? Fire the lifeguard! The lifeguard wasn’t paying attention! It’s the lifeguard’s fault! Bad lifeguard!

But wait a minute. What exactly is a lifeguard’s responsibility? First clue – it’s not free babysitting. Lifeguards are well-trained to constantly scan the water, to watch for signs of distress, to stop potentially dangerous activity and, if someone is in danger, to rescue the person and to perform CPR and basic first aid until the paramedics arrive. As with any job, some lifeguards are better than others, but most take their responsibility very seriously. Lifeguards are NOT there to babysit your kids while you talk with friends, text, catch up on e-mail, read a book or work on your tan.

Keeping your child safe requires layers of protection no matter what the situation. Keeping kids safe from traffic accidents? Speed limits, rules of the road, driving tests, seatbelts. No one thing works, it’s everything working together that keeps kids safe. It’s the same with water safety, there has to be layers of protection. Teach your child water safety. Teach your child to swim. WATCH your child whenever they are in the water. Protect your child, learn CPR because accidents do happen.

Take responsibility for your own actions and your own children. It’s not the lifeguard’s job to watch your child, it’s yours.

If you’d like to hear a podcast of this blob, please visit http://web.me.com/rebeccawr63


Why can’t my child swim? They’ve been in lessons all summer!

18 Jul

A common concern and frustration I hear from parents is that their child has been taking swimming lessons all summer and still can’t swim well.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recently changed their stance and encouraged swimming lessons for children  between the ages of 1 and 4, but there is a wide range of opinions on whether that is too young, whether children should start as infants, and what to expect from introducing swimming lessons at very young ages.  It makes it very confusing for parents to know what to do and what to reasonably expect.

There are a couple of basic facts that all the experts seem to agree upon.  Children under the age of 4 can be taught basic self-survival skills, such as turning on their back and floating, but that should never be confused with ‘water safe’ or ‘drown proof’ or even ‘swimming’.  One of the biggest advantages to introducing a child gradually and positively to the water from a very young age is that it reduces their fear.  If they associate the water with a positive and safe interaction with a parent or trusted caregiver, they are also less likely to be afraid of the water.  The simple act of reducing a child’s fear of the water makes them incrementally more ‘water safe’ because they are less likely to panic and to remember some of the basic safety skills they have been taught.

Swimming is no different from any other life skill.  It accumulates over time, it depends on the temperament and physical skill of the child, it is shaped by the cultural and parental messages that the child has internalized from birth.  If you are afraid of the water or avoid water, so will your children.  Think of how your child learns to read successfully.  There is plenty of evidence that reading to your child from infancy results in a much greater fluency with words, and watching parents read regularly produces stronger readers, but for most children it still takes until they are 5-7 before their physical skills correspond with the regular exposure to reading.  In my experience, most children ‘get’ swimming after age 4, but just as with reading, starting them earlier pays big dividends in terms of confidence and skill.  Even then, it will be several years before your child is really a competent swimmer.  Swimming lessons and spending positive time in the water with your child takes a real commitment from a parent over several years – but just as you took the time to read to them and teach them to feed themselves, it’s an important part of their development, and it will keep them safer their whole life.


How can you tell if your child is drowning? It’s not what you think…

8 Jul

It’s always the celebrity news that catches our attention.  I freely admit getting my fix of People magazine at the salon – it’s as much a part of the experience as walking out with lovely red toenails and shampoo-commercial hair.  And besides, who among us has not been secretly relieved that even the most beautiful and talented can have an ‘off’ day?  The near-miss drowning of two toddlers this week created a minor media frenzy.  Left in a stroller near a pool, the two children of a reality TV show star were pulled from the water after their stroller rolled into the pool.


A lifeguard pulled out the child still strapped in the stroller, the father dove in to retrieve the other child – both of whom were fine.  It’s easy to dismiss the accident as self-obsessed celebrities failing in their parenting duties.  For those of us who weren’t there, maybe that was the case, maybe the parents weren’t watching.  Maybe the parents thought that having the children strapped into a stroller near the pool was actually keeping them safe from falling in.  Maybe the kids released the brakes.  Maybe the brakes weren’t on.  Maybe.  Maybe.  Maybe.

Fortunately for those kids, a stroller falling into a pool is a pretty obvious sign that something is wrong and a lifeguard noticed immediately.  We think of drowning as an obvious accident – arms flailing, screaming for help – all very dramatic, followed by some heroic soul ripping off their shirt and diving into the water to help.  Well, with any luck the heroic soul dives into the water to help, but only if they are trained about what drowning really looks like – and it’s the opposite of what we all expect.  The blog in the next link should be a must-read for every parent, caregiver, teenager, basically everyone.  It is written by an expert and explains what someone really looks like when they are drowning.


The Article Was Written By Mario Vittone Mario Vittone has nineteen years of combined military service in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. His writing on maritime safety has appeared in Yachting, SaltWater Sportsman,On-Scene, Lifelines, and Reader’s Digest magazine. He has lectured extensively on topics ranging from leadership to sea survival and immersion hypothermia. He is a marine safety specialist with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Bottom line – it’s silent and it’s fast.  Please help – pass on the link to everyone you know – and thank you Mario, I sure didn’t know what to look for and the fact that 10% of drownings happen while an adult is actually watching the person will make me a lot more vigilant with my kids.


Meet Jabari, the new global face of water safety!

22 Jun

Children love the water.  Starting from the time they can make that first satisfying ‘splash’ with their hand in the bath they love to splash in puddles, float leaf boats, and run through sprinklers.  As they get older they can’t wait to do cannonballs into the pool, swim, surf, waterski, sail, even get the feeling of peace of just sitting on the beach watching the sun set over a lake or ocean.

We believe that being in and around water is one of the great joys of childhood, but water requires respect.  It is a powerful force of nature, and as with any of Mother Nature’s creations, can be dangerous as well as soothing.  Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children in virtually every developed country.  In developing nations the statistics are far more alarming.  So how do you balance the sheer joy, the exuberance of being in and near water, not to mention the practical reality that 70% of the water’s surface is water, not counting bathtubs, buckets, and pools?  How do you keep children safe without robbing them of their joy?

Meet Jabari.  Jabari (ja-BAR-ee) is the Swahili word for ‘brave’.  Our Jabari is a captivating lion cub who would like to do the right thing, but like all children, needs guidance and reminders of how to stay safe.  We believe that by positively introducing basic concepts of water safety using a lovable character, children are more likely to remember and model the desired behavior.  We are introducing Jabari in a children’s book targeted at 2-4 year olds with follow-up books, DVDs and other solutions targeted for children from 1-10.  The book provides an opportunity for parents or caregivers to interact positively with children, while also making the adults aware of common water-related dangers associated with the age group.  The story takes place in a safe and familiar setting that young children can relate to, a preschool, with positive adult role models – a parent and a teacher.  The other children exhibit a range of behaviors common to that age group – short attention spans, bravado, timidity, eagerness to be good, curiosity and an abundance of energy.

We hope you will visit our web-site, look around, and tell us what you think!



Who is watching your children?

9 Jun

My kids took the excellent American Red Cross Home Alone class last week. Following the course I received a phone call from a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. The reporter wanted to know why I had enrolled my kids in Home Alone and at what age I’d be leaving them alone. Given the current economic climate, parents are struggling to find care for their children over the long summer holidays. Camp, activities or babysitters that parents may ordinarily rely on can be economically infeasible in a down economy and the reporter was exploring what parents were doing with their kids. I think my children are too young to be left alone (6 and 8), but every parent has to make that decision based on their situation, their children’s personalities, and a whole list of other variables. I enrolled my children because I want them to learn, and re-learn every year, how to care for themselves so that even if they are in the care of a responsible adult they will react appropriately in an emergency or dangerous situation.

When it comes to water, having a responsible adult watch children constantly is a necessity, the experts all agree that it is critical in keeping kids from drowning, but it’s only one component of keeping kids safe. But what happens when the responsible adult loses track of the child, or isn’t paying attention? I read a blog which touched me deeply. http://ourdannyboy.blogspot.com
The mother had let her beloved 4-year old spend the weekend with his rarely-present father. The 4-year old slipped out the back door while everyone was busy and drowned in their pool. The mother was focused on doing the best for her child – emotionally, physically, mentally – by encouraging a relationship with his father. If you can’t trust a child in their parent’s care, who can you trust? As a single mother myself, her story tapped into my deepest fears – if I take my eyes of my children for even a minute – will they still be safe? We assume that parents always have their child’s best interest and safety at heart, but no one can keep track of a small child 100% of the time and we need to let others watch our children sometimes. Children are hard-wired to explore their environment, it’s our job to give them the space to explore safely. Don’t feel badly about running through water safety rules, over and over, with your spouse, your ex, your babysitter, your parents or any other adult who is caring for your child. Teach your children not to go near any water without an adult and other basic water safety rules, help them become responsible children and, eventually, responsible parents to their own child. All children are at risk for drowning, whether in the care of their parent or another responsible adult, so remember….

TEACH your child water safety and swimming from infancy.

WATCH your child whenever they are near water.

PROTECT your child – learn CPR, because accidents do happen.