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'Too Many Arizona Children Are Drowning': Phoenix Hospital Kicks Off Annual Awareness Month

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In June 1993, about a month before her second birthday, Emily Eoff was at her grandmother's house in California, swimming in the pool with her cousins, when she slipped off her floaty.

Her older sister, who was 5 at the time, spotted Emily at the bottom of the pool and called for help. Eoff's mother quickly dove in, pulled Emily out, and performed CPR until first responders arrived.

Eoff was transported to the hospital where doctors saved her life.

"It's still hard for my mom to talk about that day," Eoff says. "When I asked her about it, she said there's one thing that she wants to share with all caregivers and parents, and that is: I didn't make a sound. There was no splashing, no screaming, no struggles. It's not like what you see in the movies. Looking away for one minute is one minute too long."

Today, Eoff is a healthy college student who's pursuing a career as a physician's assistant and lives in Phoenix. Her life was celebrated at Phoenix Children's Hospital's 13th annual Drowning Impact Awareness Month kickoff event this past Friday.

Every year, the hospital spends the month of August working to raise awareness about water safety and the importance of constant supervision of children near pools and other bodies of water.

To inaugurate this year's efforts, advocates placed nearly 800 ribbons on trees around the hospital to represent the number of children who either died or were severely injured in drownings in Arizona since 2000.

They also set up displays with photos of children who have drowned. In addition, they placed 14 pairs of shoes on the ground — one for every child who has drowned so far this year.

Debra Stevens of Phoenix Children's Hospital spoke about the high risk in Arizona for child drownings. Stevens noted that the rate of drownings involving children under the age of 18 in Arizona is 25 percent higher than the national average.

Among children ages 1 to 4, drownings are occurring at double the national rate and are most likely to happen between the beginning of August and Labor Day weekend, Steven said.

"Before they even start kindergarten, too many Arizona children are drowning," Stevens told those assembled. "That's such a tragedy."

Eoff became emotional when she spoke about Mark Marshall, the fire chief who was the first to arrive on the scene after she nearly drowned. By giving her CPR en route to the hospital, he helped save her life.

Marshall surprised Eoff by attending Friday's event. He spoke about how difficult it is for emergency workers to respond to calls of child drownings.

Now retired, Marshall teaches CPR classes almost every week and said he dedicates every class to Eoff.

"I have a passion for teaching that class because of Emily, and because it saves lives," Marshall said.

Dr. David Notrica, trauma medical director at Phoenix Children's Hospital, said a lot of work still needs to be done to reduce the number of child drownings in Arizona, starting with educating parents about putting aside all distractions and focusing solely on their children when they're around water.

More research to figure out what methods and interventions work best to prevent child drownings and to save lives is also needed, Notrica added.

"We can't continue to let our kids drown at the same rate," he said. 

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