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Radical Lifesaving Swim Program
Surfaces in Valley

Before he earned a Ph.D. in psychology, before he became an expert in child drowning prevention and taught thousands of kids to swim, Harvey Barnett wanted to see if he could fly.

He was a bold 4-year-old and devoted fan of Captain Video,a 50s TV character who routinely took to the air. Young Harvey imagined he could too. Wearing an Army helmet, a towel cape and a radio fastened to his belt, he climbed on his Florida garage roof one day and launched himself. He survived the fall with the help of more than 300 stitches.

"I don't think God wanted you to die," his dad told him. "He has another plan for you, and it probably has to do with safety."

Years later, that plan came into focus when a sweet 9-month-old who lived next door drowned in a nearby drainage canal. Barnett was stunned by the death and decided to do something about it.

Already trained as a lifeguard, he began teaching infants to swim. At the University of Florida, he concentrated on child psychology and drowning prevention.

While in College, he started a program called Infant Swimming Research. In the past 30 years, it's gone national and has taught 96,000 kids to float and swim.

Not one of those students has drowned, and Barnett says 718 have saved themselves in definite drowning situations.

Based in Orlando, the program hasn't been taught in Arizona until now. Its first two instructors moved here recently, and Barnett met this week with Valley pediatricians and members of the state's Drowning Prevention Coalition.

John Harrington, CEO of Vencor Hospital in Phoenix and the coalition's president, liked what he heard.

"I think he has an excellent program, one of the best I've seen. We believe in layers of protection, and this is one more good one."

Barnett agrees with the fundamentals of the Valley's prevention program-constant supervision, pool barriers and knowledge of CPR. But he adds:"No lock, no fence, no gate can completely prevent a child from drowning. Once he finds his way into a pool, if he's not skilled or rescued, he's dead."

In Arizona, drowning is the No. 1 cause of accidental death of children under 5. Maricopa County has 52 drownings or near-drownings in that age group last year. Many near-drowning victim suffer permanent brain damage.

Barnett's approach is far different from classes aimed at making kids comfortable in the water. He doesn't let them play ring-around-the-rosy or splash around with their parents or use floatation devices.

Instead, parents observe while instructors teach kids as young as 6 months how to survive in the water fully clothed-as they would be if they fell into a pool. The key skill is learning to flip on their backs and float. Lessons run between $200 and $300.

More information is available at www.infantswim.com on the internet.

His program has its critics, including many pediatricians. Some say that the infants are pushed too hard and that submerging them for several seconds is too intense. The American Academy of Pediatricians is opposed to any effort to teach kids younger than 3 to swim, largely because parents develop a false sense of security and become less attentive. Barnett says the opposite is true.

"Our parents become more vigilant. We work with them and raise their awareness such a degree that their kids are watched more carefully than before."

Skeptics have a hard time arguing with his success. In many case,when his infant graduates have slipped into backyard pools they've been found safely asleep floating on their backs.

More dramatically, one couple were riding with their 2-year-old in a sailboat off Florida when the boy managed to unbuckle his safety harness and tumble into the Atlantic Ocean.

Several minutes elapsed before the parents realized he was missing, and they spent the next two hours searching frantically. When finally spotted, the boy was drifting along calmly on his back, non the worse except for a sunburned face.

While no program can make a child totally drown-proof, this one comes close.

Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
Written by: Steve Wilson
©Copyright 1999 Arizona Republic

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