Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Nonfatal Drowning – The Hidden Epidemic

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on February 20, 2013

We talk about children dying from drowning. And we should. After all, one child drowns every minute. It’s a leading cause of accidental death for children all over the world. But we forget that even more children suffer from nonfatal drowning injuries. It is estimated that five children experience nonfatal drowning for every child who drowns. If you think about it, it’s not surprising. After all, death by drowning is fast, it can happen in 2 minutes in 2 inches of water, and it happens most often to young children who are at the age where ‘escape and experiment’ seem to to take up virtually every waking moment. Drowning is fast, but nonfatal drowning is even faster. Just as there is a cost of drowning, there is also a cost of near drowning. Of the nonfatal drowning accidents, more than 50% require hospitalization (compared to 6% of other unintentional injuries requiring hospitalization) or further care. Of those, a large proportion of children end up with permanent disabilities, most commonly brain damage of some sort. What does this mean? Michael and Jo-ann Morris could tell you. Their son Samuel had a nonfatal drowning accident when he was 2. Samuel suffered severe Hypoxic Brain Injury and was left with a range of severe disabilities. To have a child almost drown but not die is a different sort of loss. The child you knew is here but gone at the same time. What doesn’t change is the love and dedication of the parents for their child. In Samuel’s case, his parents were so determined that other parents should not have to experience this unique loss that they started The Samuel Morris Foundation, which prevents drowning death and disability through education and awareness and helps parents who have a child who was in a near drowning “discuss life, disability, death and every combination in between”.

Nonfatal drowning has a huge emotional cost, but it also has financial costs – in terms of both emergency and long-term medical care, lost work time for parents, and even the ‘loss’ of an economically productive member of society. No, I don’t ever put any child’s life down to an economic decision, but if we want to attract the attention of policy-makers and foundations, we must make both an emotional argument and an economic argument. By some estimates, the average lifetime care in the U.S. for a nonfatal drowning victim is $1 million. If one child drowns every minute, and five children have nonfatal drowning accidents, we’re talking about a huge economic, and emotional, cost to our society.

So how do we stop the nonfatal drownings?  The same way we stop fatal drownings. Education about water safety. Awareness that drowning is even an issue. Supervision. Fencing. Learn to swim. But yes, even if all of that exists, some children will still find their way into water, after all, toddlers are every bit as talented as Houdini in escaping to explore their environment and push their limits. The best thing you can do if you find your child submerged in the water, is do CPR immediately.  It needs to be traditional CPR, with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and compressions (pushing on the chest), because your number one goal is to get oxygen into your child’s brain before irreversible brain injury occurs.

We all know the mantra ‘no more drownings’. We need to expand that to ‘no more fatal drownings or nonfatal drownings’.

Photo courtesy of http://vibranti.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/mg_16802.jpg

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