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Drownings continue despite end of summer

December 21, 2002

Latest toddler pool death shows vigilance needed

Emmanuel Lozano /The Arizona Republic
Lainie Underwood and Kade Haderlie buried daughter Mikaila after she drowned in her grandmother's pool last month.

Post-Labor Day swimming pool drownings have reached record numbers this year on the heels of an unprecedented water safety campaign that halved those in summer.

Typically, pool drownings drop off after Labor Day, but that didn't happen this year. Countywide last year, such drownings fell 75 percent after Labor Day, but this year they are keeping pace with summer numbers. Four children drowned in Valley pools this summer and four since.

"I ache for her," said Lainie Underwood, whose 20-month-old daughter, Mikaila, drowned in November. "I miss her so much. It's so hard. I don't know what to think. I don't know what to feel.

"I just wish she was here."

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Mikaila's death, in her grandmother's unfenced pool, underscores the continued need for pool fences and constant supervision. It is a horrible reminder that drownings can happen to anybody, even to the most loving of families, and even when it's too cold to swim.

"A pool's still a pool whether it's cold or not," said Kade Haderlie, Mikaila's dad. "Kids don't care if their nose is running. They don't care if their hands are cold. They want to be outside."

Haderlie still catches himself singing Mikaila's favorite tunes. Sometimes, Underwood wakes him in the middle of the night, telling him, "Go get Mikaila. She's crying." The couple haven't been able to go back to their home, where Mikaila's juice and Cocoa Puffs stain the carpets and memories of her are everywhere.

Gone is that sweet little-girl smell and the laughter that filled the home when Haderlie would chase Mikaila through the rooms and tickle her. There are no more wet kisses. No little fingers pointing to the freezer for one of Daddy's KitKat candy bars. No little voice calling, "Mommy! Mommy!"

"She was everything to me," Underwood said. "She was my baby, and I just feel like my heart is broken. Every day is a struggle for me. I can't grasp that she's gone. It's too hard for me to understand."

John Harrington, president of the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Central Arizona, said this year's trend in post-Labor Day drownings is a bad sign, especially after summer drownings fell to four from eight in 2001.

"All of a sudden, the pool's too cold to swim in and people forget about it," Harrington said. "But this is not just a summer problem. This is a year-round problem."

Still, water-safety messages that were everywhere this summer have all but disappeared since Labor Day. Calls to Phoenix's Water Safety Hotline have dropped from about 25 a day in the summer to only 22 in the past month.

Yet, children are still drawn to water, Assistant Phoenix Fire Chief Bob Khan said.

"Their curiosity meter doesn't have a temperature gauge in it," Khan said. "There isn't a seasonal thing that says, 'In winter I'm going to be less curious about water.' . . . Your kids can still drown."

This year, 20 children have drowned in Maricopa County.

Mikaila was spending a Sunday afternoon with her grandmother while her parents went to an Arizona Cardinals football game. Underwood and Haderlie said they considered taking Mikaila with them but opted against it.

"Be good for Grandma," Underwood told Mikaila. "We'll see you in a little bit."

They wish now they'd taken her or just skipped the game.

Jody Underwood, Mikaila's grandmother, said she was fishing a doll out of the pool when she turned around and didn't see Mikaila. She thought the girl was playing hide-and-seek - Mikaila loved the game - and went inside to find her. When she saw her dog staring out at the pool, she realized Mikaila had fallen into the water.

"I don't know if I can ever forgive myself for losing track of her," said Jody, who taught water safety for four years and knows the dangers of a pool. Every other time Mikaila had been over, she followed her around constantly, even taking her into the bathroom with her.

"I just don't know what happened," Jody said. "I can only tell you how much we miss her and how much we wish it was a nightmare and we could wake up and she would be here.

"I would do anything to have her back."

All it took, she cautioned, was a "split second."

"It could be your other child talking to you," Jody said. "It could be the phone ringing. It just takes a split second, and your whole life can change. There's no looking back. There's no changing the circumstances. There's no bargaining. It's done, and you have to live with it."

Mikaila was rushed to a hospital and died two days later. Lainie held her daughter close and sang to her softly as the toddler took her last breaths.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray.

Mikaila's parents donated her corneas and heart valves. They buried their little girl in her Princess Aurora Halloween costume.

"They say it's an accident, but it's an accident that could be prevented. And that's the problem. It's not being prevented," Lainie said.

"She should be here."

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8048.

Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
By Judi Villa
©Copyright 2002 Arizona Republic

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