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WATER SAFETY: Halifax Health, YMCA work to prevent kids' silent killer

News-Journal - 7/2/2018

July 02--Ellie Wohlford, 3, sits by the side of the pool in her pink summer clothes playing with a green spotted rubber duck.

Then her cousin runs up behind her and pushes Ellie into the 5-foot deep end of the pool. She belly-flops and her face becomes completely submerged.

A bystander rushes to the side of the pool but by the time they reach the edge, Ellie had already flipped over onto her back and even though her eyes are wide with fear she is keeping herself afloat.

Ellie was able to flip herself over thanks to swimming lessons she received at the YMCA in Port Orange.

"Most cases of child drownings occur when there are adults around but they are not paying attention," said Dr. Katarzyna Madejczyk, pediatric emergency department physician at Halifax Health. "Drowning happens silently and quickly without a lot of noise."

Halifax Health Healthy Communities has partnered with the YMCA and the City of Daytona Beach to provide swim lessons for kids. This year they are offering 800 swimming scholarships for low income families.

"The average cost of a swim lesson is $75, which is a lot for some families," said Steve Parris, community health and outreach supervisor for Halifax Health Healthy Communities. "Since we started the program in 1996, we have given out over 16,000 scholarships."

To apply for the scholarship, parents just have to fill out the registration form for the swim lessons at their local YMCA.

Different forms of drowning

Drowning is when a person becomes submerged and their lungs fill with water, causing them to become unconscious. It only takes 20 seconds for someone to drown.

"When it happens, they are not able to make noise," Parris explained. "They are just gasping for air and struggling. It's a silent killer. A kid can be struggling, but it will look like they are playing."

This silent killer comes in other forms, including dry drowning which is when the airways are exposed to water and the vocal chords spasm and close.

"It's when they go under then come out and have trouble breathing," Madejczyk said. "It happens soon after going under."

Secondary drowning is also a concern as it happens hours after leaving the water. It is caused when water gets stuck in the lungs. Symptoms of secondary drowning include fast breathing, vomiting, blue discoloration of the lips or extremities and fatigue.

"Oxygen delivery is compromised in this situation and it may not develop for a few hours," Madejczyk said. "They need to seek medical attention if they have any of the symptoms."

Madejczyk recommends that if you are bringing a kid to the emergency room to try to get them to one that has a pediatric ER unit.

"We are the only pediatric ER staffed with an emergency pediatrician in Volusia and Flagler counties," Madejczyk said. "We also have a child intensive care unit so they can stay locally."

Water safety tips

They key to water safety, according to Parris, is for there to be constant parental supervision.

"When there is a group of adults, they often don't pay attention," Parris said. "They need to pick someone to be the water watcher. They can switch off but someone always needs to have their eyes on the water."

Parris recommends that parents discourage kids from seeing who can hold their breath the longest because it can quickly become dangerous and they may not be able to surface quick enough.

When it comes to being on the beach, the same tips apply, but parents also need to be alert to cars.

"Kids, they dart away from you," Madejczyk said. "They are cute but not trustworthy."

Brian Monday from the Port Orange Fire Department said not to rely solely on the lifeguard, especially at the beach.

"The quicker that someone can start CPR the better that person's chance of survival is," Monday said. "So if a parent or older sibling is watching they can get to them quicker."

For families who have a pool at their house, Parris suggests putting up a 5-foot high barrier with latching gates as well as installing alarms on the doors and windows of the house.

"Most fatalities from drowning happen when the kids slip out of the house," Parris said. "It only takes one slip up."

Parris also recommends that kids should wear life vests if they are not comfortable swimming -- not water wings. It is also recommended to empty out small kiddie pools after each use.

"All it takes is one inch of water for a child to drown," Madejczyk said.

For information on the swim lessons, call your local YMCA.

For information on CPR lessons, call your local fire department.

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(c)2018 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla.

Visit The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla. at www.news-journalonline.com

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