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Rx for Child Health & Safety: The Tragedy of Toddler Drownings


It is with great sadness that I am writing this particular column.  Even before we got to July 4th, we lost yet another young child to drowning, this time in an Irvine community pool.  Despite CPR administered by a nurse who was at the scene, the child died at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) less than one hour later.

The day before, a 2-year-old fell into a home spa and was pulled out by another child, according to the Orange County Register.  And, elsewhere, a 4-year-old was found by his uncle, motionless in the pool.  Fortunately, these two children were saved with CPR.

Last year, Eric Ball, MD — an Irvine resident and President of the American Academy of Pediatrics Orange County Chapter — was assisted by two CPR-trained friends, Steve Averill and Nathan Evans, in saving the life of a toddler at a Woodbridge Lake.

Drowning is the leading cause of death among California toddlers (1-4 years) — yes, drowning causes even more toddler deaths than motor vehicle crashes.  Drowning took the lives of 52 children statewide in 2015, most of those here in Southern California.  In 2016, a total of 43 children under 5 years old were treated as drowning survivors at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC); 22 were fortunate to be treated in the ER and discharged to go home; 21 were hospitalized.

So, how can these tragedies be prevented?  Listen to Daniel Cooper, MD, a long-time Irvine resident who is UCI’s Associate Vice Chancellor for the Institute of Clinical and Translational Science.  Dr. Cooper says, “We must tell our parents that there is no such thing as a safe pool or spa.  It is our obligation to ensure the safety of children in water through the highest standards of supervision and, if necessary, access to immediate resuscitation.”

What we can do to prevent drownings:

  • Since many of these incidents occur at pool parties, where there are many children and adults present, supervision is difficult. One strategy is to hire a lifeguard, or assign a rotating “pool watcher” to keep a constant watch on each and every person in the pool.
  • In the case of home pools, it’s important that these pools be designed initially — or retrofitted — with four-sided fencing, including a self-closing, self-latching gate compliant with Consumer Product Safety Standards. The sad fact is that 1-and-2-year-olds all too frequently slip out of the house, undetected by adults, only to be found dead in an unfenced pool.
  • When children are developmentally ready, swim lessons may help. But beware of thinking that your child is “pool safe.”  Swim lessons are not a substitute for fencing and vigilant supervision. No one is drown-proof.

For further information, see: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/injuries-emergencies/Pages/Drowning.aspx

Phyllis Agran, MD, MPH, FAAP
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