Kid Drownings

After decades of failure, the well-intentioned still don't get it

Even when targeting the area, sometimes the message gets lost. Ironically, the Just a Few Seconds message itself was part of the problem in Maryvale. Since 22 percent of drowning victims and 59 percent of 85033 residents are Hispanic, it was necessary to translate materials into Spanish. But when they translated the Just a Few Seconds message into Spanish, they met with an unexpected problem. John Harrington of the Arizona Drowning Prevention Coalition says, "In English, that means to people, Oh, it only takes a few seconds for my child to drown.' But in Spanish, it translates as, Oh, I have a few seconds that I can step away.'" An Arizona Department of Health Services study also points out that the rough translation of the message in Spanish was, "You have enough time."

The Arizona Drowning Prevention Coalition, one of the most vigorous of all citizen-led groups in the drowning prevention since its beginning in 1989, recently enlisted the help of Sarah Fleury of BJ Communications. The mother of a near-drowning victim herself, Fleury is trying to get other advertising agencies on board. "BJ Communications is a PR firm; we're really not equipped to handle something of this magnitude by ourselves, but it would be a potentially award-winning campaign, and I hope someone sees that potential and agrees to help."

The idea is to get an independent message, free of a sponsorship tie-in. "The dilemma of media or other corporate sponsorship is that the message is stuck with an ulterior motive," says Khan. "Any sponsor obviously has their own reasons for backing a campaign, which usually has as much to do with PR as with saving kids."

Steve Satterwhite
Channel 10's Dave Munsey spearheaded the media's drowning-prevention effort in 1980.
Channel 10's Dave Munsey spearheaded the media's drowning-prevention effort in 1980.

But the ideology with the fire department is to take what's offered, because it needs all of the help it can get.

"It's like getting a free lunch. You aren't going to complain about it. Even if it's not your favorite dish," explains Khan.


In the playground at Hacienda de Los Angeles, the bright plastic slides and swings are rock still, not even the wind having the energy to make them play again.

Marisa Martinez is the assistant director of nursing at Hacienda de Los Angeles, which specializes in long-term, permanent care for children with little brain function. She has been there for 10 years, and has seen more children dying from near-drowning incidents than anyone should. Near-drowning victims who live are brain-damaged children left to grow up on life support, with machines functioning for every system in their body.

The ADHS says that, in 9 percent of incidents, the child survives with some neurological impairment. The CDC reports that, of 398 children admitted to a major children's hospital in Arizona from July of 1982 to July of 1989 for near-drowning, 74 (19 percent) died, and 36 (9 percent) were discharged as neurologically impaired. When this happens, they usually grow up alone at a facility like Hacienda de Los Angeles. They live for 20 years sometimes, or more.

Martinez says that, in most cases, parents will choose to take their child off of life support within the first few years. "The average is to live one or two years. But it depends on how aggressive the parent is. Some put in DNRs [do-not-resuscitate orders], and will allow them to pass away -- but it's difficult." Martinez says that, for many parents, the reality of their child's condition is too much to handle. "At first, they come every day, then it slows down. They call a lot after that, and then little by little we don't see them so much anymore."

Tara Axsom is one child who moved over into permanent care. But Tara isn't a child anymore. Tara is 18 years old. She turned 18 here at Hacienda, just as she turned every birthday since her second. She has been a patient here since she was 15 months old, when she fell into the family swimming pool. No one knows for sure how long she was under, but after three minutes, parts of the brain begin to die. Like all near-drowning impairment cases, the chief problem comes from a condition called hypoxia, a condition resulting from the brain being deprived of oxygen. Even a minute of this can cause irreversible brain damage. Three minutes or more causes complete incapacitation. Like Tara.

But not all of Tara's brain died. There is very clearly a little girl still behind her lopsided smile who looks at the people around her, recognizes her nurses, and sometimes looks like she is about to pipe up and say "hello." Her head is swollen and her face has flattened, but her big, gray eyes remain bright, open and constantly looking around. She cannot speak, but can sometimes blink or move her cheek in response to a question.

"We treat her like anybody else because you never know what she can hear. She might get everything but just be unable to communicate back.

"Tara's eyes are fine. But her brain doesn't really know what to do with the pictures it sees. It can't understand them or process them. Maybe she sees shadows, highlights, we don't know," says Martinez.

Tara's daily routine is about the same since she was very young. She has a tube attached to her mouth because, though she can breathe on her own, she cannot keep back the amount of secretions and saliva from her throat and mouth and could easily choke on them if this tube were not suctioning it out on a 24-hour basis. She is fed through a tube in her arm because she cannot swallow.

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4 comments
Diane Moore
Diane Moore

The solution to this is soooooo simple, yet seems to be too much trouble for these parents. All they have to do is WATCH their children... and be sure they are taught safety in and around water. My grandbaby is 2 1/2 years and can swim like a fish. He is just finishing an ISR Swimming course this week... I do NOT believe in fences, they give false security. I raised 5 extremely active (and sometimes naughty) children without a fence around our pool, and they are all grown up now... I can appreciate that parents are busy sometimes, but it only takes a few seconds to safely strap a baby/toddler in their high chair, or put a baby in their crib or playpen... and KEEP the doors and windows locked. When my grandbaby visits our home, I wear the key to the backyard around my neck... so I know its locked. Also, I am aware of where he is EVERY single second while he is in my care. Thats all there is to it.

Susan Freyer
Susan Freyer

Don't you sleep? Ever? Children get out when parents and children are supposedly sleeping. It happens. But yeah. It's sooooooo simple.

David Stone
David Stone

Or maybe it's the shitty parents who are having too many kids? Jesus Christ, you fucking Arizona idiots make me sick.

Family
Family

were u with my cousin when this happened? what was her reaction? where was steven ( her Husband) or clifford? what did she say? i dont mean to bother you or bring up something unpleasent but i have heard it was no accident what happened to the boys. and i am trying to find out the truth

 
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