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.