Media Contact: Keith.O’Connor@baystatehealth.org, 413-794-7656
SPRINGFIELD – The cooling waters of area rivers and lakes may be tempting on a hot summer’s day, but the temporary relief isn’t worth risking your life over.
That’s the message Dr. Ronald Gross, chief of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at Baystate Medical Center wants to share with summer fun seekers, especially in light of the increased number of area drownings so early in the summer season.
“Knowing how to swim can help reduce your chances of drowning, but it’s no defense against the cloudy waters of rivers and lakes that can mask sudden drop-offs and fast-moving currents that can sweep away even the best of swimmers,” said Dr. Gross.
“Equally dangerous are the wet rocks and cliffs along the embankments. Swimmers can slip and fall into dangerous waters and get swept away. If the water is shallow, they can suffer fractures from their fall, and if they land head first and break their neck, they can be paralyzed,” he added.
For those reasons and many more, you should never swim alone, whether in the unpredictable surroundings of natural waters or in the “safety” of your own backyard swimming pool, noted the Baystate trauma surgeon.
“Many state and local parks will designate swimming areas which offer the least risk to swimmers, and they may even employ the services of a lifeguard for your added safety,” said
Dr. Gross about the need to look for properly marked areas.
According to Safe Kids Worldwide and its local chapter headquartered at Baystate Children’s Hospital, drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death among children ages 1-4 and the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children 19 and under. Swimming pools are the most common site for a drowning to occur among children 1-4 years with about three-quarters of pool submersion deaths occurring at home. Also, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the flexible and low sides of inflatable pools may make it easier for a child to climb inside one of them and drown.
Children can get into trouble in seconds when around water, so Safe Kids recommends that parents actively supervise – with their eyes on their kids at all times – when they are in or near the water.
“Kids drown quickly and quietly,” said Mandi Summers, co-coordinator, Safe Kids of Western
Mass., headquartered at Baystate Children’s Hospital. “A drowning child cannot cry or shout for
help. The most important precaution for parents is active supervision. Simply being near your child is not necessarily supervising.”
Even a near-drowning incident can have lifelong consequences. According to Dr. Gross, kids who survive a near-drowning may have brain damage. “Under normal swimming conditions, you risk irreversible brain damage after four to six minutes under water,” he said.
Although 90 percent of parents say they supervise their children while swimming, many acknowledge they engage in other distracting activities at the same time - talking, eating, reading or caring for another child.
“A supervised child is in sight at all times with your undivided attention focused on the child,” said Summers. When there are children in or near the water, adults should take turns serving as the designated “water watcher,” paying undivided attention. Visit www.usa.safekids.org/water to download a free Water Watcher badge.
To help keep kids safe in and around pools this season, Safe Kids recommends the following precautions:
• Always actively supervise children in and around water. Don’t leave, even for a moment. Stay where you can see, hear and reach kids in water. Avoid talking on the phone, preparing a meal, reading and other distractions.
• If you have a pool or spa, or if your child visits a home that has a pool or spa, it should be surrounded on all four sides by a fence at least five feet high with gates that close and latch automatically. Studies estimate that this type of isolation fencing could prevent 50- 90 percent of child drownings in residential pools.
• A pool or spa should be equipped with an anti-entrapment drain cover and a safety vacuum release system to prevent children from being caught in the suction of the drain. The powerful suction forces can trap a child underwater or cause internal injuries.
• Don’t leave toys in or near the pool, where they could attract unsupervised kids. For extra protection, consider a pool alarm and alarms on the doors, windows and gates leading to the pool.
• Enroll your kids in swimming lessons around age 4, but don’t assume swimming lessons make your child immune to drowning. There is no substitute for active supervision.
• Don’t rely on inflatable swimming toys such as “water wings” and noodles. If your child can’t swim, stay within an arm’s reach.
• Learn infant and child CPR. In less than two hours, you can learn effective interventions that can give a fighting chance to a child whose breathing and heartbeat have stopped.
• Keep rescue equipment, a phone and emergency numbers by the pool.
These guidelines apply to inflatable and portable pools, not just in-ground pools. A child can drown in just an inch of water. Kiddie pools should be emptied and stored out of reach when not in use.
For more information about drowning and water safety, call Safe Kids of Western Mass at 413-794-6510 or visit www.usa.safekids.org/water. Also, for more information on Baystate Children’s Hospital, visit baystatehealth.org/bch or for Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc.