By Nancy Gutierrez
Since Jan. 1, 21 Central Valley children have died from drowning. Seven of those drownings occurred the last week of June. In March 2001, nurses and staff in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Children's Hospital of Central California could no longer watch as more children were admitted to the ICU as a result of drowning.
"It's hard for everyone [in the pediatric unit] who has to help a family through this process," said MaryJo Quintero, a nurse in the PICU. "We had three families in two weeks with children who had drowned. You can't change the outcome, but we looked at what we can fix."
Quintero and staff from the PICU compiled data of drowning victims including their age group, where and how it happened. From the information the group produced a comprehensive Drowning Prevention Program to help educate children and their parents about water safety. It was presented at more than 400 school and preschools between Bakersfield and Modesto last year.
"It is a non-medical program. There is a physician that presents it and even a housekeeper," Quintero said.
The initial program was an informative 25 minute presentation for preschool aged children. Students get a coloring book with all of the information they learn during the presentation. The front cover of the book is a letter to parents telling them the importance of water safety. During the presentation children are taught the difference between "good" and "bad" water.
"We decided to start with the children's education because we knew the parents might be a hard sell," Quintero said. "Sometimes we think, 'that wont happen to me.'"
The adult program is a recent venture. It received a First Five of California grant and involves the use of a program that was started by a hospital in Los Angeles. The hour-long program is titled Three Tragic Seconds and centers around a video that depicts the tragedy of child drownings.
"The video follows one family for two years as they cope with a child's death. It shows the child's drowning and what the family goes through. There is guilt from surviving siblings and the parents go through a divorce," Quintero said. "We don't let the kids see this one. It's is such an emotional demonstration."
After the video parents are taught the ABC's of water safety. ABC is an acronym that stands for Adult supervision, Barriers and Classes. Quintero said drownings can happen to anyone. The problem is not a lack of supervision but a lapse in supervision.
"Parents will say I'm a bad parent, but that's not the case. You can't watch them every single minute of everyday," she said.
Because constant supervision is not always possible, parents are taught about barriers or layers of protection against potential accidents. Quintero said a majority of drownings occur in pools.
"Parents should get self latching and self closing gates around their pools," she said. "And if a door from the house leads to the pool it should have an alarm or chimes on it to alert you when it is opened."
Quintero also warns that deaths have occurred from children drowning in a bucket.
"Children can drown in an inch of water," she said. "If you're washing the floor you should put the pail in the sink."
The final precaution to help prevent drowning are classes. Quintero said this does not just mean drowning prevention classes, but swim classes for children and CPR classes for adults. The American Association of Pediatrics suggest starting swimming lessons when a child is 4 years old. Quintero suggests parents implement the ABC's in their family routine.
"It's important to realize that in California, Arizona, Florida and Texas more kids between the ages of 0-5 will have drowning related deaths than deaths from car accidents," she said.
The preschool program is available free of charge to any preschool with a valid license. Quintero said they do not usually visit private home preschools. The adult program is also free of charge. Quintero said they have reached more than 21,000 children and families with the prevention program. Each year Quintero tracks the number of children who are admitted into the PICU. She said this year she began tracking all of the children in Children's Hospital's referral district.
"Though the formula for tracking the children is different there has been a 40 percent decrease in drowning accidents," she said. "I think we're making a difference, but there is always new parents, so we can't let our armor down."
To schedule an appointment with the adult drowning prevention program contact Toni Munoz at [email protected] To schedule an appointment with the preschool drowning prevention program contact Quintero at 353-8770.