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Prevent childhood drowning

Safety: April Pools Day will be held Saturday at Academy Swim Club

Posted: April 23, 2010 1:00 a.m.
Updated: April 23, 2010 4:55 a.m.

The Academy Swim Club in Valencia is hosting April Pools Day, a community water-safety expo and drowning-prevention event, from 1:30-5 p.m. Saturday at 28079 Smyth Drive in Valencia.


Jim and Nikki Miller returned home to their two kids that day 15 years ago. Everything seemed fine. But a puddle of vomit and water on the pool side revealed otherwise.

The couple's 4-year-old son revealed to them that his little brother had fallen in the spa water, while the baby sitter was on the phone.

He told his parents that "someone in his head" had told him to go after his brother in the water. He had saved the 2-year-old toddler.

"My heart dropped," said Jim Miller, of Castaic. "I never left them with a baby sitter around water again, and we doubled up on the swim lessons for him."

Their youngest son went on to break several swim records throughout high school, while Jim and Nikki Miller became active champions of drowning prevention.

A child can stumble into the water and drown in a matter of seconds - without making a sound, Miller said.

Diligent supervision is the number message the couple tries to communicate to the hundreds of parents they see weekly at the Academy Swim Club in Valencia.

The club will host April Pools Day, a community water-safety expo and drowning-prevention event, from 1:30-5 p.m. Saturday at 28079 Smyth Drive in Valencia.

Tragic but preventable
Drowning is the No. 1 cause of accidental death for children under age 5 in California.

Fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

For every child who dies from drowning, another four received emergency-room care for nonfatal submersion injuries such as brain damage, the website said.

A 2-year-old boy was found in January at the bottom of his family's pool in Canyon Country. He was one of several children who fell victim to community or home pools in the Santa Clarita Valley in the past couple of years.

The numbers and stories are tragic, yet 100-percent preventable, Miller said.

Miller teaches parents at the swim club about four levels of protection. The first is always the importance of vigilant supervision.

"As often as we securely buckle our children into their car seats, we should be equally cautious of their safety around pools, spas, fountains, lakes, ponds, bathtubs, sinks, toilets, diaper pails, and buckets," he said. "Children are naturally attracted to water and we must be watchful every second they are around it."

Miller has a home video of a father playing on the pool steps with his two children. As he focused on the 4-year-old in front of him, the toddler began to drown silently in the water behind him.

The grandfather, who was videotaping, rushed to the toddler's aid, Miller said.

"We lose track of our children - we all do," Miller said. "But in an instant, it can happen."

The same rule goes for inside the home, Miller said.

Bathtubs, buckets and toilets are the leading cause of drowning in children up to 1 year old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Second to constant supervision comes fences and alarms, Miller said. The third layer of protection is swimming lessons, he said.

Instructors at Academy Swim Club teach children how to turn on their stomachs, float and breathe properly immediately if they fall into water. From there, the young swimmers learn how to reach a pool wall and get to the pool steps.

Fourth, Miller recommends that anyone who supervises children, including baby sitters, know CPR, he said.

"That, in a lot of instances, will save a child," he said.

False sense of security
The Millers are strong proponents for teaching water education and swim lessons to children as young as 2 weeks old.

"Babies have a swim reflex," said Nikki Miller, a child psychotherapist and swimming instructor for more than 20 years. "I've seen and taught babies who couldn't walk yet, but were totally independent in the water."

After four to six months, babies begin to lose that automatic reflex, Miller said. But if they'd had practice in the water, that reflex can turn into an automated response, she said.

While pool safety can certainly buy a child time in the case of an emergency, there is no substitute for vigilant supervision, Nikki Miller said.

Parents should not allow themselves to succumb to a false sense of security that may follow swim lessons, she said.

"You can't fall into that," she said. "You have to supervise. Drownings are silent."

A scary thought
After years of accidental child drownings splashed across news headlines, Miller believes most parents have begun to understand that swim lessons mean more than teaching a kid to swim.

They're about safety and respecting the water, said Miller, swim club education director.

Two-year-old Madelyn Krestul clung to her swim instructor at the Academy Swim Club last week. With her instructor right by her side, she practiced turning over in the water and floating for extended periods of time.

"We've had parents where kids have fallen in the pool, and they've turned over on their back to breathe until parents can come get them," Miller said.

Madelyn has been taking lessons for almost four months at the club.

The Krestuls have a baby gate around their pool. But what would happen if Madelyn got past the gate somehow, her mother Amanda Krestul wondered.

"I was worried if she fell in she wouldn't be able to float or get to the side," Krestul said. "It's really a scary thought."

After a few months of lessons, Krestul is confident that if Madelyn were to fall in the water, she could turn over and float, get over to the wall and pull herself to the pool steps.

"She's definitely learning," Krestul said. "I can see the progress."

For more information visit April Pool's Day will be held 1:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday at 28079 Smyth Drive in Valencia.


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