The accidental drowning of three toddlers within one week has Cook Children’s Medical Center urging families to remain vigilant when their little ones are playing in or near water.
In each case, the parents of the drowning victims, ages 2 to 4, had thought their child was safely with another family member, said Dr. Kimberly Aaron, Cook Children’s Emergency Services medical director. But unfortunately, those children had slipped beneath the surface of backyard swimming pools, unnoticed until it was too late.
All three children were pronounced dead at the Fort Worth hospital’s emergency room last week.
“These events are preventable. Often times they are silent,” Aaron said. “Many parents think they might hear their child thrashing or yelling for help but often times the children just slip into the pool. It’s very, very quiet.”
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So far this year, at least 49 children have drowned in Texas, which leads the nation in child pool drownings. Cook Children’s, which typically handles between six to eight drownings annually, had seen no cases this year before the three deaths last week, Aaron said.
The accidental deaths are a reminder that a simple distraction or miscommunication about who is supervising children near a pool, hot tub, lake or other water source can result in devastation for a family, Aaron said.
“There is that moment of pause when you reflect on your own children and realize this could have happened to you,” Aaron said. “We can so easily see ourselves in the situation of those parents because we’ve all had the experience of taking our child to the pool and having the phone ring and having to go and flip the hamburger and we all know how quickly the child can end up back in the pool.”
Families can work to prevent an accidental drowning through steps such as fencing in backyard pools to keep wandering toddlers out, designating an adult to actively watch children who are in the water, or using wrist alarms that activate if a child becomes submerged, said Dana Walraven, Cook Children’s Community Health Outreach manager.
It’s also important for inexperienced swimmers to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vest, she said.
“We want parents to prepare for ‘Back to Pool’ as much as they prepare for ‘Back to School,’” Walraven said. “The more layers of protection you put in place, the safer the child.”
The toddlers’ deaths have taken an emotional toll on the emergency room staff, many of whom have children of their own, said Cameron Brown, Cook Children’s staff care chaplain.
“It’s been traumatic,” Brown said. “A lot of the times it’s some of the same nurses, the same physicians who are on duty when those kids are brought in. They are human beings and they truly care about the patients and the families. In a lot of ways, they grieve as well.”
Oftentimes, families are at the child’s bedside during resuscitation efforts, which aren’t always successful.
“When parents hear that devastating news that the medical team has done everything within their power to save their child, there is a primal scream. It just reverberates down the hallways,” Brown said. “There is this silence and the staff just knows ‘Oh no, these parents have received the most devastating news of their whole life.’”
Cook Children’s emergency room staff are hopeful no other families suffer such a tragic loss this year, Aaron said.
“It’s one of those cases that is hard to leave behind. Not to say any of the deaths that we attend to in emergency departments are easy, but these are particularly difficult because they are preventable,” Aaron said.
To prevent water-related injuries and deaths, Cook Children's Medical Center recommends:
• Direct adult supervision, 100 percent of the time with no distractions
• Four-sided fencing with self-latching gates around home pools
• Swimming and water safety lessons
• Hands-only-CPR lessons
• Child and pool safety alarms
• Having a pool hook, foam noodle or life jacket available to throw out to a person in need of help
• To learn more, visit www.cookchildrens.org/safety