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January 1, 1999

When summer ends, concern for child drownings seems to end, too.

But children are curious year-round, and cold weather doesn't bring a halt to the potential for tragedy, says Dr. Kote Chundu, director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Desert Samaritan Medical Center in Mesa.

"Parents let their guard down when the season is done," Chundu says, despairing over two recent drownings handled by his staff.

One was a swimming pool incident, and one child drowned in a bucket of water and detergent.

During the summer, Chundu says, warnings about pool safety are constant. Attention falls off when children head back to school.

"At the tail end of the season, people tend to forget," he says. "Always, in drownings, we feel sad because they are completely preventable."

Children younger than 5 are the most frequent drowning victims. The next most affected group is teenagers, who feel invincible and use poor judgment. Teen drownings often involve alcohol.

Young children are naturally curious, Chundu says, and seem to get into the very things parents want them to avoid. They are attracted to swimming pools because of the color of the water and the sunlight reflected on the surface.

They are also drawn to floating pool toys. Chundu reminds families to remove toys from pools.

Children are in trouble as soon as they fall into water. So-called drown-proofing is a controversial safety method, Chundu says, that can give parents a false sense of security. Kids who learn to save themselves in a class where Mom is standing by and the water is warm could panic when they hit chilly winter water and Mom is nowhere around.

In cold water, mobility decreases and muscles quickly fatigue. Panic sets in.

Parents should know CPR, authorities say. A Mesa mother recently saved her child when she performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation before paramedics arrived.

In addition to parental supervision, barriers must be erected around pools, says Gil Damiani, a battalion chief with Mesa Fire Department. Pools should be completely fenced, with self-closing, self-locking gates. Arcadia doors leading to pools should be locked at all times.

"Supervision," he maintains, "is the best thing."

Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
Written by: Barbara Yost
©Copyright 1999 Arizona Republic

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