Written by: Christina Keifer, Office Manager at Oklahoma Swim Academy
Never in a million years did I think someone close to me would experience drowning. I’ve worked in the survival swim business for over 4 years. “Water Safety Advocate” is basically tattooed on my forehead. Kidding… sort of.
It was just a few weeks ago on a Wednesday, my kids’ first day of school. An exciting day full of butterflies, hugs, and kisses. We had just returned from a camping trip the weekend prior with the Smith family – our neighbors and friends – where their son Peter (1 yr) played in the lake the entire weekend with my children, with his mom close by his side.
When I think of the people within my community who are safe and prepared for emergencies, I immediately think of the Smith family! Dad works in law enforcement. Mom homeschools and keeps her babies close. Their first-aid kit puts mine to shame. They wear seatbelts, helmets, life jackets and are the first to put away distractions. They are prepared. They are safe. However, if there is one thing I have learned in the last 4 years of being immersed in the world of water safety and drowning prevention: DROWNING DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE. Peter drowned 2 days after our joint camping trip. The Smith family had installed their pool only a few months prior to the accident. A pool that was fenced with a gate that locked. However, on this particular day the gate was unlocked. The ladder was still attached to the side of the pool and like any 1-year-old adventurous boy, Peter was curious. He crawled up the ladder and slipped quietly into the pool.
These are attentive parents. They were just a few feet away. It happened in minutes. It was SILENT. Mom was walking toward the kitchen and something told her to turn around and check on Peter. She found him in the pool. He had stopped breathing and did not have a pulse. Dad performed CPR while Mom called 9-1-1. He was rushed to the hospital. At that moment, I was parked on the main road outside our neighborhood waiting for my children after school. I saw the ambulance drive by and her car following. I knew something was wrong and texted her immediately.
She called later and told me that Peter had fallen into the pool and the gate had been unlocked. My heart broke into a million pieces. HOW? How can this happen to my friend? AND WHY? Why did this happen to such a sweet boy? He was transported from the ER to a bigger hospital with a PICU and was fighting for his life. He was unconscious, but stable. They pulled the fluid from his lungs. They poked and prodded his tiny body. It was a roller coaster of a week for their entire family. Finally, the chest x-rays came back clear and all tests came back with good news! He started responding and was soon breathing and eating on his own. No MRI was needed. Doctor’s prognosis was a full recovery!
Peter has amazing parents. They own multiple life jackets and they use them. Their oldest (4 yr) just graduated from his swim class in June and is swimming independently (no floaties)! They know the importance of water safety but as we have said before: DROWNING DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE. It can happen to anyone, anytime, and anywhere. It can happen to a drowning prevention advocate’s friend. It can happen to a Sheriff’s son. It can happen when both parents are at home and only steps away. No one is fully protected from this epidemic. By the grace of God, Peter’s life was saved. There is still so much healing happening within their family. The trauma of it all is so heavy. I wish I could take it all away for them.
Peter had not had any swim lessons prior to the accident, but the family plans to do so in the near future. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the LEADING cause of death in children ages 1-4 years. That statistic is alarming every time I type it. Even to someone like myself who works in the swim industry and says it out loud on a daily basis. We also know that *formal swimming lessons reduce the risk of drowning by 88%. Survival swim lessons save lives!
Unfortunately, we do not currently have a survival swim program near our growing community in Mountain House, CA. The closest survival swim instructor is 20+ miles away and books up every season. This needs to change. My hope is that one day, there will be a survival swim program in every town in America! I like to dream big. Since Peter’s drowning and learning there is a need for a survival swim program in our area, I am feeling pulled to get trained as a survival swim instructor myself. I have been on the “dry side” within the swim world for 4 years and I think it’s time to consider diving in deeper! I fear for every single infant, toddler and child in my town who do not know these life-saving skills and don’t have access to these types of swim lessons. It keeps me awake at night. Swimming is a life skill. It is not an extracurricular activity. Every parent and child should know how to survive in the case of an aquatic accident.
*Journal of American Medical Association
All names have been changed due to the privacy of the individuals involved.