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Save a child

Prevent drowning: Keep an eye at all times, don't trust arm floats, and know that kids can die in an inch of water

It seems like every time I tune in to the news there is a report about a child drowning. When I was training to be a lifeguard and a basic life support instructor, my mentor would repeat again and again that preventable drownings are not accidents. Accidents by definition happen regardless of preventative measures, they are freak occurrences. Drowning, especially among young children, is almost always preventable. It is my hope that parents reading this article will exercise greater caution when allowing their children in or around water.

Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death in children. It is the third leading cause of death among children aged 1-4 in the developed world.

A toddler can drown in an inch of water. YES, an inch. That means buckets of water from mopping the floor, toilet bowls, shallow baths and outdoor kiddie pools all hold enough water to pose a drowning risk. NEVER, NEVER EVER leave a young child alone in the bath or in a backyard wading pool. Not even for a second.

A drowning child looks as though they are playing, they flail their arms straight up and down at their sides and bob up and down in the water, head back, silently gasping for air. A child will become completely submerged in 10 seconds as their lungs fill with water. In the time it takes to check an e-mail while keeping an eye on your child at the local pool or at the beach, they will already have disappeared under the water. As people swim over them, it will take only another minute for them to lose consciousness.

Permanent brain damage can occur after only 4 minutes, and death can occur between 4-6 minutes without oxygen.

Twenty percent of children rescued from drowning suffer permanent brain damage. This can range from mild developmental delays to permanent vegetative state (PVS).

Studies in the U.S. have estimated that 80 percent of child drowning deaths could have been prevented by secure enclosures around home swimming pools and bath time supervision. Let the phone ring, it cannot possibly be more important than watching your child. If you have a pool in your yard, make sure it is secure and locked at all times. Always supervise kids in the pool yourself, don’t trust an older child to keep an eye on things. If anything should happen, two children will be destroyed.

Arm floats, water mattresses and blow-up rings are extremely dangerous. DO NOT RELY ON THEM. Water mattresses have been known to flip over, trapping children underneath. Rings turn upside down, forcing the child’s head under water as they struggle to get out of the toy. Arm floats are very susceptible to small tears and leaks, leaving the child to sink as the arm floats deflate. These toys should never be used as flotation devices.  In my opinion they should never be used at all. A child who cannot swim unassisted should never be more than an arm’s length away from a mindful adult.

Your child may know how to swim, but all it takes is a kick from a flailing friend or sibling, a bump on the head from an ill-advised dive or a bear hug from a frightened younger child and all those swimming lessons will be moot. Municipal pools are full of kids banging into each other and swimming over one another. The water is cloudy from sweat and sunscreen. Even older kids are at risk of drowning, DO NOT leave them unattended.

In Israel, most drownings occur at beaches without lifeguards. Those flags are there for a reason: riptides in the Mediterranean are vicious. Don’t mess with ocean, even building a sandcastle or wading requires vigilant supervision.

That being said, don’t freak out and keep kids away from water altogether. Teach your children to swim and teach them young. The age group at highest risk of drowning is 1-4, so why wait until they are six years old to start swimming lessons? Babies from three months old can be in swimming classes with a parent. Along with learning how to swim, teach water safety. It is critical that kids understand that just as they should not run into a busy street, they should be similarly cautious around water.

Finally, go get certified in basic life support (BLS), and ask your childcare professional to do the same. In my humble opinion every parent, teacher and babysitter should be trained in how to respond to choking, poisoning, electrocution, drowning, allergies and all the other minor and major injuries that take children from this world.

Save a child, save the world.

About the Author
Corinne Berzon is currently getting her PhD in bioethics. When she is not reading dense philosophical texts or dancing around the house to dubstep with her three daughters, she teaches yoga, runs in no particular direction and watches inappropriate television with her husband; Corinne loves Israel, but remains deeply and darkly cynical because it is more entertaining than the alternative.