“As a health system and community partner, it is critical that we provide water safety training for all children in our community, particularly those at greatest risk for drowning,” says Stephen Wilson, MD, (pictured above, left) of Mercy Health – Forest Park Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.
Drowning is the second leading cause of injury death for children ages one to 14 years. There are also significant gender and racial disparities in drowning fatalities.
“Children and adolescent boys represent nearly 80% of drowning deaths in the United States,” Dr. Wilson reveals. “African American boys are significantly overrepresented in drowning fatalities and African American children ages five to 19 have a drowning fatality rate in swimming pools that is five and a half times that of white children of similar ages.”
Dr. Wilson and his team have found that access to swimming pools as well as the lack of swimming abilities are both contributing factors in this disparity of drowning deaths. The cost of swimming lessons can also be a barrier.
In response to this issue, Dr. Wilson partnered with the Mercy Health – Fairfield HealthPlex to launch the Forest Park Swim Safety Initiative. It is a free program available to the children in his practice.
“We enrolled 10 children, ages nine to 15, with limited swimming abilities and a desire to swim. We secured the services of Tony Miller, a competitive swimming coach, to train them,” Dr. Wilson shares.
Coach Tony (pictured above, right) has been teaching these kids water competency skills so they can anticipate, avoid and survive drowning situations. The former volunteer assistant swim coach at Xavier University and former top Xavier swimmer mainly encourages them to take things slow. This way, the kids will avoid the panicked feeling that can take over after getting water in the mouth and nose.
“It’s important to stay relaxed in the water,” he says.
Coach Tony has led weekly, hour-long swim instruction sessions at the Fairfield HealthPlex for eight weeks. After an initial discussion on a water safety topic, the kids learn basic swimming skills for the 50 minutes. These skills include entering the water, surfacing, propelling oneself 25 yards, floating and treading water and exiting the pool.
“Lastly, we train the students in using water safety equipment so they can respond to a swimmer in trouble,” says Coach Tony.
Overall, the program has been a great success. Dr. Wilson hopes to offer this program again in the fall.
“All of the students have grown in their knowledge of water safety and we’ve seen a significant improvement in their swimming ability,” says Dr. Wilson.
Tia Harris, 11, a newly minted swimmer, is thankful for her new skills and says, “it’s great to swim because I wouldn’t want to drown.”
“I feel great because I can save somebody by keeping them from drowning,” program participant Jazmin Cunningham, 10, adds.