It was just another day at the pool for Karin Chopin, now the regional director for Aqua-Tots Swim Schools. Chopin was monitoring the pool she managed, when a loud whistle and leap into the water by a lifeguard caught her attention. She instantly ran towards the motionless child whom the lifeguard had pulled out of the water.
“She looked lifeless, and we couldn’t feel a pulse,” recalls Chopin. “We immediately started rescue breathing and CPR while someone called 911. I did chest compressions, and she eventually threw up. At that point we got a mask to help with breathing, and I continued chest compressions until she started coughing. By the time the ambulance got there, she was somewhat conscious, and the ambulance took her from there.”
The girl who nearly drowned had been trying to complete an underwater swim across a 50-meter pool along with her brother and father, and the incident occurred on her second attempt. Quick actions saved the girl’s life. If it weren’t for Chopin and the lifeguard immediately responding, there may have been a much more tragic result from that afternoon at the pool.
Moments like the one Chopin experienced are why May is National Drowning Prevention Month. The awareness campaign provides a chance to talk about the safety precautions parents and kids must take before they head to the pool this summer.
To kids, the month of May signifies the end of a long year, the final days of school until three months of freedom. As the hot and sunny months of summer come closer, pools around the country open their doors to welcome kids and adults of all ages, making May that much more important.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the leading cause of death among children under the age of five and is the fifth leading cause of unintentional death for people of all ages in the United States. Every day, about 10 people die from an unintentional drowning, and many result from sudden accidents.
Over the years, the use of floatation devices has gained extreme popularity with parents and are found everywhere with a wide variety of designs and styles, from typical arm floaties, to inner tubes or pads that go around the entire body.
Floatation devices, however, don’t allow children to encounter the true dangers of water at a young age. When they grow up, in case of an accident, kids won’t have the experience of ever being underwater, and that panic could result in a drowning.
“I’m really passionately opposed to these floatation devices,” says Kerin Morgan, the lead aquatic trainer who oversees curriculum for all Aqua-Tots Swim Schools. “I’m hugely pro-submersion, because a child has to experience being underwater to know they are responsible for getting air. Parents allow kids to go in the water on their own, and a child doesn’t know that it’s a floatation device that’s holding them up.”
Even skilled swimmers can have accidents in the water. They can get nervous in an unknown situation and panic, they can get headaches or cramps, or objects flying around at public pools such as toys or basketballs can hit kids’ heads and knock them out.
“You look around the water, and every parent has their nose in a cell phone,” says Melissa Baker, general manager of an Aqua-Tots Swim School in San Antonio, Texas. “Parents don’t realize that if you shouldn't check your Facebook while driving, don’t check it when your kids are in the pool.”
Swimming: A Lifelong Skill
Water is everywhere. It’s important that kids learn at a very young age to be safe around the water because that safety leads to a love of water that they’ll never lose. It teaches them skills that go beyond the pool.
“For many children, this is the first activity they are confronted with that they have to overcome anxiety,” says Morgan. “Surviving in the water is not an optional activity. They have to deal with this, and if you learn it young, you’ll actually enjoy it all your life.”
Swim lessons are the best way for kids to learn vital skills in the water. Eight-year-old Lilly Schuckenbrock, who attended an Aqua-Tots event, says that “making sure that you’re safe around people,” is her favorite thing to learn at lessons.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drowning remains the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages one through fourteen. Males are especially at risk, with twice the overall mortality rate of females due to riskier behavior and more exposure to water. And according to the National Autism Association (NAA), drowning is the number one cause of death for people with autism.
To many, drowning may seem like a farfetched possibility. As a teenage boy who lost a classmate in a river drowning accident, I know that these numbers are more than just statistics. Water takes lives regularly, but if kids learn early on to swim safely, it can be an activity they’ll enjoy their entire lives.
“Every child I teach goes from having a fear and misunderstanding of water to having both a respect and comfort level while swimming,” says JB Sampson, assistant general manager for an Aqua-Tots Swim School in San Antonio. “I think swimming is the only sport that you can teach where you can see such incredible progression so quickly within kids.”
Photos: Lutz Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images (top); Essdras M Suarez/The Boston Globe/Getty Images