With drownings this year, a mother wants to throw a lifeline to her parents

According to a mother, instinct helped save her toddler from drowning in the family pool. She knows other families aren’t so lucky.

“I don’t remember screaming,” Michelle Dixon said.

But when Dixon screamed, his eldest son came running over, grabbed his 2-year-old who was face down in the pool and ‘threw him in the air’.

Memorial Day weekend is a time when Texans take to the water. Families are heading to lakes and open public pools. It also marks the season when first responders and healthcare workers expect more drownings. MedStar says seconds count when someone begins to drown, and knowing that CPR can save lives.

After her son was thrown out of the pool and she caught him, Dixon performed CPR. She has a military background, and she credits him for saving her son’s life.

“It was like riding a bike,” she said. “I knew he needed those stomach thrusts. I knew he needed air. I knew he needed me to not be ‘mom’ at that exact moment and he needed me to help him.”

It took firefighters about 15 to 20 minutes to reach her home in the small town of Aledo, west of Fort Worth. She thought her training, plus her husband’s experience in the military, and the locked doors were enough to protect her children, but Fred nearly died anyway.

In hospital, Fred had a cracked sternum, some cracked ribs and was treated for pneumonia after getting dirty water in his lungs, Dixon said.

“We are grateful that Fred is alive,” she said, and now she wants to prevent accidents like this from happening to other families.

“Too much”

On Friday, fifteen bathing suits and five rubber duckies hung on a clothesline outside the Cook Children’s Medical Center, where Fred visited in March.

The display depicts over 20 children who have been treated for drowning injuries this year, the ducks represent bath drownings. This is a record number for this period. Three children died.

It comes before Memorial Day weekend, which is usually one of the worst for patients drowning in hospital, hoping to prevent drownings.

There have already been “far too many,” said Sharon Evans, injury prevention coordinator at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth.

“I hate to say we haven’t had a good year at all so far,” Evans said.

This year, at least 20 drowned patients have arrived at Cook Children’s and three have died. In Dallas, Children’s Health saw 20 patients drown and one death.

Across Texas, at least 17 children have drowned this year, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Last year, the department shows a total of 76 children drowned.

The World Health Organization identifies drowning as the third leading cause of unintentional injury or death. Earlier this month, a 26-year-old man drowned in Joe Pool Lake and he was not wearing a life jacket, officials said. Last month, the body of another man was pulled from the lake and he was also not wearing a vest, authorities said.

How can this happen

People may think the drowning looks like a scene from Jaws, but that’s a myth. Drowning is silent.

“They don’t scream and splash for help,” Evans said. “They’re just honestly trying to get their heads above water enough to breathe.”

At pool parties, there are often lots of adults nearby, but it can be more dangerous if everyone assumes someone will see or hear a child drowning. Even children who wear life jackets or floats might take them off at some point, Evans said.

Children can also get out of the house and into the water. MedStar said many children who drown in backyard swimming pools were out of sight for less than five minutes and under the care of at least one parent at a time.

“I went to the bathroom for two minutes,” Dixon said.

Fred and another of his children had climbed through a screened window.

The pool, 3 to 6 feet deep, takes up most of the family’s backyard, and the window was in the dining room which overlooks the pool. Dixon has padlocks on the fences and electronic locks that squeal when the gates open, but that didn’t prevent the crash.

She didn’t want to take Fred home from the hospital until the pool was safe. Within 24 hours, she said Katchakid came to her house and gave her a mosquito net. She decided to also buy a fence. The company specializes in swimming pool safety barriers and is running a campaign celebrating its 50th anniversary that awards safety nets to families in need.

The first was attributed to Dixon, according to a press release.

“We needed an extra step because drowning is a silent thing,” Dixon said. “There’s not that big splash and there’s not a kid screaming ‘Help me! Help me!’ when it happens.”

Dixon also plans to start a business called Saving Fred and teach first aid and CPR to parents this summer. She said she plans to teach swimming lessons that include lessons for kids with special needs, like her 5-year-old son who is non-verbal. Eventually, she wants a facility with a swimming pool.

Prevention

Momentary distractions like taking a phone call, using the bathroom, or answering the front door can create an opportunity for a child to gain access to a swimming pool. Experts say those around water, especially parents, need to be on their toes and know what to do in an emergency.

Here are some tips that experts recommend:

  • Know CPR, the Heimlich maneuver and other first aid.
  • Supervise children at all times, even if there are lifeguards present.
  • Learn to swim and teach children to swim. Lessons do not guarantee that a child will not drown or remember what was taught in swimming class last year.
  • Install layers of protection around pools with fences, self-locking gates, netting and alarms. Remove ladders from above ground pools.
  • Remove toys that might attract children to the pool and teach children to ask permission to go near water. Parents teach children that water is fun so they are not afraid. But when children are alone, they don’t think about danger.
  • Anyone under the age of 18 must wear a vest on a boat. Lakes can have steep drops.
  • Just like they do with car seats, children should get used to putting on a life jacket when approaching water until they are strong swimmers.
  • Alcohol and water are not a safe combination. It is important to remain vigilant.
  • Know the address where you swim in case you need to call 911.
  • Have lifesaving equipment available at the pool, phone, life jackets and first aid kit.
  • If someone is in the water and needs help, reach out or throw something at them and don’t go in unless you’ve been trained.
  • If someone is drowning in a lake, find a landmark where the victim fell that is not subject to wind or tides. This will help orient rescuers.

Find more information on Cook Children’s Hospital’s Lifeguard Your Child website. The Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition offers water safety courses.

Children’s Health has created a resource and parents can text WATER, or AGUA for Spanish, to 77444 and receive water safety tips through the end of the year. This includes where to find swimming lessons or how to choose a life jacket.

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