This summer, celebrity parents are warning about less-talked-about risks of toddler drownings
After suffering tragedies, Bode Miller and others have a few things they want you to know
For several summers in a row, it seemed like not a week went by without a tragic story on the news about “hot car deaths” of young children — bringing attention to what should be a preventable tragedy. But last summer seemed instead to be the summer of high-profile drownings, particularly involving celebrities’ children. Olympic skier Bode Miller and his wife became accidental activists after losing their 19-month-old daughter Emmy on June 10, 2018 in a neighbor’s backyard pool, with many adults around. Another high-profile case occurred the same day when six doctors’ families were vacationing together in Alabama and realized one of their toddlers had run outside into the pool. While the 3-year-old boy’s mother quickly realized where he was, none of the doctors was able to save him. The mother has since become an activist who created “Guardian Tags” so that everyone in a group of parents knows who is watching the child.
Six doctors’ families were vacationing together in Alabama and realized one of their toddlers had run to the pool.
What has come out of these tragedies is that sometimes, having too many adults around a toddler can be as dangerous as having too few, because each person assumes someone else has their eyes on the child. Parents have also
Sometimes, having too many people around a toddler can be as dangerous as having too few.
been talking to the media this summer about how quickly and quietly a toddler can drown, sometimes after falling into a pool only steps away from adults.
A slew of parent activists has emerged since last summer, hoping that this summer they can raise awareness and prevent similar tragedies. Most recently, they included country singer Granger Smith, who suffered a tragic loss in June.
‘Quickly and quietly’
A year ago, while vacationing at a beach house in Fort Morgan, Alabama with other families, the mother of toddler Levi Hughes shared a brownie with him before he slipped downstairs to the pool. She still had some of the brownie in her mouth when she realized he was in the pool and dove into the water to grab him, but it was too late to save him. It happens that fast, parents say.
Similarly, last month, country singer Granger Smith lost his 3-year-old son, River, in his backyard swimming pool while he was just yards away playing with his older daughter.
“We were doing gymnastics in the yard and the boys were doing a water gun fight,” Smith told the press three weeks ago. “Somewhere between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, we don’t know, Amber and I are inside our pool gate doing CPR on our son.”
“Somewhere between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, Amber and I are inside our pool gate doing CPR on our son.” — Granger Smith
Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 4, after birth defects, according to the CDC. Children can drown in as little as an inch of water. Even a toilet, bathtub with water draining, or wading pool poses a threat.
Activist parents have been saying that even though they knew the risks, they were caught off guard. Sometimes, parents take precautions and follow safety rules (such as laws about having a fence around their pool or hot tub), but an unusual circumstance changes the playing field. Children have passed away while visiting a relative or sitter who didn’t follow the laws. What happens when a child wanders to a neighbor’s yard? Or if you just moved to a new house without a fence?
“I think a lot of parents feel like it’s not going to happen to them because they think it will happen during swim times when they’re watching their children,” warned Bode Miller’s wife, Morgan Miller, on CBS this Morning last August. “They can find ways outside, outdoors, out doggie doors, out windows.”
“I think a lot of parents feel like it’s not going to happen to them.” — Morgan Miller
In 2015, Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, ran an essay called “Two short minutes that changed everything” by a mother whose 4-year-old son, Xander, drowned in a pool while he was playing with a friend. The author, Misty Vento, was getting watermelon out of a cooler and asked her friend to keep an eye on the kids, but Xander and another child wandered away quickly.
“As parents we have all watched the news to see a sad story where a child was injured or died,” Vento wrote. “And we’ve also been that parent who thought in the back of their mind, ‘That is so sad. I am so grateful it’s not me.’ Or even ‘I can’t imagine. At least nothing like that will ever happen to us.’ Well, I was that parent too. And then one day everything changed in the blink of an eye.”
She warned, “Do not buy the misconception from the movies of drowning. There is no splashing or screaming. It is silent and it happens FAST.”
“It is silent and it happens FAST.” — Misty Vento
In the four years since Vento wrote the piece, dozens of parents have posted their own stories of drownings or near-drownings on the hospital website, with similar stories of how quickly and quietly it happens.
“I lost my 18 months old this year, april 7th 2017, drowned in the pool, with every one at home, it took few mins, and we lost our every thing,” wrote one mom in response. “I am looking forward for doing any sort of charitable thing on her name.”
“We almost lost our 3 year old grandson in our pool last Saturday,” wrote a grandmother. “We believe we lost sight of him for 30 seconds, maybe 1 minute … I turned to my right side to talk to my daughter and that is when he got up and we believe tried to get a toy out of the pool.” (That boy survived after a hospital stay.)
“We believe we lost sight of him for 30 seconds, maybe 1 minute.”
‘The Complicated Truth…’
A story in Houstonia Magazine in 2015, “The Complicated Truth about Children and Drowning,” highlighted another less-talked-about risk factor, “habituation,” or the fact that sometimes, parents are vigilant at first around a pool or other risky situation, but become complacent. And that’s when tragedy strikes.
In July of this year, a woman wrote on Today’s Parent about how she noticed a 22-month-old boy drowning at a party while adults were around, but not paying attention.
To raise awareness, the CDC has listed ways to keep a toddler safe around water.
Levi Hughes’ mother thinks people — pediatricians specifically — need to talk more about the risk of toddler drownings.
“I don’t want this role of water-safety advocate,” Nicole Hughes wrote in an impassioned essay on the website ScaryMommy last year. “I want 30 seconds back on June 10. But I am determined to share these facts I so desperately wish I had known. A 3-year-old can drown in less than one minute: silently and without a struggle. [Often] drowning happens when not swimming. I am like any other mom: winging it, doing my best. Drowning needs to be addressed with as much concern as newborns sleeping on their backs to sleep, vaccinations, and car seat safety. Can we please start talking about it?”
“Can we please start talking about it?” — Nicole Hughes