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Summer's Favorite Sport Can Be Its Deadliest


Last year, Bode Miller, the Olympic skier, and his wife Morgan, made the unthinkable announcement that their 19 month old daughter Emmy had drowned in a neighbor’s pool. The Millers, together with Nicole Huges, whose 3 year old son Levi had drowned on the very same day while they were on vacation, embarked on a public awareness campaign about the devastating risk to children of drowning. What they discovered, and began talking about, were startling statistics regarding childhood drownings, particularly with respect to children ages 1-4 years old. Miller and Hughes created a series of PSAs that began airing this year to educate the public on the risks associated with one of America’s favorite pastimes, and the steps to take to keep it safe.

Tragically, another high-profile child drowning was reported just last week: Country music star Granger Smith made the grief-stricken announcement that his 3 year old son River had drowned in the family pool.


As the above discussion illustrates, most drownings occur in home swimming pools; even Levi Huges, who drowned on a family vacation, drowned in the pool of the vacation home in which his family was staying. The reality is that drownings are responsible for more deaths among children ages 1-4 than any other cause except birth defects. Put another way, drownings are the leading cause of unintentional deaths of children ages 1-4 years old and the third leading cause of unintentional deaths of children and adolescents ages 5-19. Drownings claim the lives of almost 1,000 children a year in the United States, yet the deaths are totally preventable. In addition, for every child that drowns, 5 more are seriously injured, with injuries that often result in lifelong disability (e.g. head trauma from diving in the shallow end, or spinal cord injuries), or very long rehabilitation (e.g. drain and filter injuries).


The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) has released updated guidelines regarding measures to prevent child and adolescent drownings. The biggest revision is with respect to swimming lessons; the AAP recommends that children as young as 1 year old start to learn to swim. Survival swim lessons, where toddlers can learn to flip over on their backs and float, thereby keeping their face above water, can keep young children out of trouble long enough for help to get to them. Along with having effective barriers to pools/water in place, constant supervision (see below), and life jacket use, the AAP strongly urges that parents and guardians learn CPR. Being able to administer CPR during the crucial minutes before an ambulance with EMTs can reach a child that has been submerged can make the difference between life or death, or a better long-term outcome.


The most important takeaways in Miller and Huges’ public awareness campaign about child drownings are that drownings happen fast, they tend to happen when you don’t even think your child is near water/the pool, and they happen no matter how many adults or people are around. In the tragic case of Levi Huges, multiple families were vacationing together and staying in a vacation rental with a pool. It was in the evening, after dinner, and no one was swimming at that time. The parents—who included multiple doctors—and children were all gathered in the great room to watch TV and play games. Nicole Huges went into the kitchen area to clean up a spilled snack, when she turned around to look for Levi. Not finding him in the great room, she glanced outside, and saw him floating face down in the pool. Several doctors immediately jumped into the pool, performed CPR and even used a home intubation kit they had brought along. The ambulance transported Levi to the local hospital, but he passed away.

Nicole Hughes came up with the Guardian Tags system, which are tags on lanyards that people wear around their necks to remind them to watch for and be guardians of children near water. It may be appropriate to assign a particular child to a particular guardian for a day. Touch supervision is recommended when swimming; i.e. always stay within reach of the children you are supervising—and be in the water not on the side of the pool. Even older kids and adolescents who know how to swim should “buddy up” for safety.

Teach your children basic water rules: no running; no pushing others in the water; no pulling people under the water; no diving in shallow areas; and absolutely no swimming without adult supervision—even if a lifeguard is present.

Be aware of home water hazards. Drownings occur in bathtubs, buckets, and even coolers where ice has melted and the water has been left unattended. Never leave a child unattended in a bath ring or bath seat. Don’t leave water to accumulate unattended. Secure toilet seats so that babies and toddlers cannot fall in.

Swimming is a fun and heathy summer pastime. It can be a safe one if proper precautions are taken.


If you or someone you know has been injured when swimming, or has died from a drowning accident, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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