Volunteers working to help prevent drowning deaths in Tarrant County

Posted Saturday, Jun. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition To find out about future drowning prevention classes or to volunteer, contact swimsafefw@gmail.com or call 817-994-1984. The drowning prevention classes are $5. Participants receive a $5 coupon to continue with learn-to-swim lessons with partners (City of FW, YMCA & The Fort Worth Swim School). Participants also get a certificate of completion. Those who have attended all classes get a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal floatation devices or life vests. Information about the coalition is available at: http://www.fwdpc.org/default.asp.

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Danger came swiftly and quietly when 4-year-old Xander Vento and a friend wandered into a deep part of a swimming pool.

Xander didn’t yell or splash violently as he went below the surface, holding the little girl up.

Instead, there was silence.

“It only takes a little bit of water,” said Misty Vento, Xander’s mother. “It happens very quickly, and it’s silent.”

Xander was rushed from the pool in north Fort Worth to a Fort Worth hospital, where he later died after being taken off life support.

“He held her up, but it pushed him under,” Vento said. “He just took too much water very quickly.”

Since her child’s death, Vento became a member of the Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition’s advisory board. The group formed last summer to help prevent drownings, said Pam Cannell, board chairwoman for the coalition. She said Texas ranks too high in the number of child drownings.

When organizers started trying to find drowning statistics in Tarrant County for 2012, they where shocked to learn that it had the second-highest number in the state. Tarrant County had nine child drownings, second to Harris County with 12. There were 74 child drownings in Texas in 2012.

“We figured we had a problem,” Cannell said. “We had to educate our parents.”

So far this year, the Texas Department of Family & Protective Services shows that 27 children have drowned in Texas. Tarrant County has had two, according to the state.

‘What can we do?’

This summer marks the first series of drowning prevention classes, Cannell said. Volunteers focus on water safety and self-rescue skills for people 3 and up, she said.

Classes, which cost $5, have been held at the community pool at the Villages of Woodland Springs, where Xander drowned. Classes are also underway at the Eastside YMCA in Fort Worth.

Cannell said more volunteers are needed for future classes.

There are several community partners in the program, including the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation, city of Fort Worth, the YMCA, University of North Texas Health Science Center and Fort Worth Fire Department.

“All of these partners came together and said, ‘What can we do?’” Cannell said.

The classes aim to build a sense of comfort in water, teach people to float on their back when there is drowning danger, teach people how to tread water while awaiting help and learn how to travel about 10 yards in water to get out of a pool.

Cannell said that by teaching people to flip on their backs and float, people can yell for help in a dangerous situation.

‘Drowning is a silent killer’

Parents and caregivers also attend sessions with Starrett Keele, a fire life safety educator for Fort Worth. Keele teaches parents and caregivers water safety. He teaches chest-compression CPR and how to use Automated External Defibrillators.

Keele stresses the need for supervision.

“Even though they are outside with their child, they still need to have an eye on their child,” he said.

Keele also emphasizes that the Hollywood images of drownings with yelling and splashing are not typical.

“Drowning is a silent killer,” Keele said.

In Xander’s case, Vento was attending to her other children when he went under while helping the little girl.

After he was retrieved from the water, two women — one a nurse, another a psych technician — performed CPR on Xander, who was unconscious. He was rushed by helicopter ambulance to Cooks Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, where he died three days later.

Vento said it is not surprising to her that Xander tried to help his friend. A Facebook page: “ In Memory of a Hero: Xander Kahle Vento,” includes information and photos about the Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition.

“He had affection for everybody. He had a humongous heart,” Vento said. “He wouldn’t have put himself first for anything.”

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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