"Drowning—a Preventable Tragedy" By Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, President and CEO

Drowning—a Preventable Tragedy

August 1, 2010 - Each year, the number of children who drown in Florida could fill four preschool classrooms. According to Florida's Department of Health, Office of Injury Prevention, these youngsters do not live to see their fifth birthday. Tragically Florida is known as the drowning capital of the country for children under the age of four. The most common story is a child wondering through an open door in their own home and being discovered in a back yard pool . . . dead.

A s uncomfortable as it is to discuss, having awareness will help prevent future accidents. At NCH we care for way more near drowning than one can imagine. Fortunately, our pediatric intensivist, Dr. Debbie Lopez, and her colleagues have had many fortunate “saves” over the past few years since they joined the team at the North Naples Mac Donald SeaCarium. Our North Naples pediatric emergency room personnel are recognized as being the experts in caring for children.

The Florida Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have shared one common prevention theme with everyone: Keep your eyes on the kids. Most drowning occurs within a matter of minutes while the caregiver is engaged in some type of routine activity within the home. In most cases, the child is missing for less than eleven minutes and is within three feet of safety.

In over 70% of the reported cases, the child had breached a sliding glass door, French door or other house door and was attracted to the water. While many of us do not have toddlers around, we should remind those who do, to be on the lookout when near the water. These tragedies occur throughout the year and, most frequently, in the early afternoon.

Even with new laws in Florida that require fencing around the perimeter of residential pools built since 2000, the number of these heartbreaking accidents continues to rise. There is a correlation between the number of deaths and the number of residential pools in a given county. Over half of all deaths and near deaths from water accidents occur in single family home pools, according to a study reported in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education.

Teaching water safety practices and basic swimming skills is a wonderful way to prevent water accidents. For many years the YMCA of Collier County has contributed to the prevention efforts with a free program called “Splash Week.” Held during the spring school vacation, the course focuses on safety in and around water. This past year six hundred young children participated in the program, consisting of five 30-minute classes. Sessions were offered throughout the day to accommodate parents' schedules. Details and pictures about this important preventive program are on the YMCA's website: http://www.ymcapalms.org/splash-week.html

In a recent conversation, Dr. Todd Vedder, NCH Chairman of Pediatrics, related our efforts to organize a Collier County coalition to improve safety for the 65,000 children in our community. Water safety will be a big component of this program, owing to the number of tragedies here in the recent past.

Recognizing, acknowledging, and preventing a problem, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to discuss, is better than ignoring or denying it, and accepting tragedy. Having multiple layers of protection is key, according to the Drowning Prevention Foundation. Being vigilant, teaching water safety, and constructing safe environments are all ways we can prevent heartbreak. Florida is a beautiful state with many attractions and activities; we must not be lulled into a false sense of security as we care for and protect our young.

Past Health Advice Articles

Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.