Drowning prevention, safety urged at April Pools Day

Leilani Olive, 7, lies belly up and motionless in a pool at the Silver Mesa Recreation Center. Three lifeguards swim to her aid, strap her against a backboard and pull her out of the water.

North Las Vegas paramedics arrive and check her vital signs. A few shocks, a few rounds of CPR, and Leilani is whisked away into an ambulance.

Minutes later, she is back in the crowd, smiling and wrapped in a warm towel. Fortunately, Leilani was only performing in a mock drowning Monday.

None of it was real. After all, it was “April Pools Day.”

The Southern Nevada Child Drowning Prevention Coalition teamed with the North Las Vegas Fire Department to spread pool safety awareness at the annual event.

The day was created to inform the public about serious swimming safety measures and techniques as warmer weather draws more families to pools.

“Drownings can be prevented,” said Cedric Williams, fire captain of the North Las Vegas Fire Department. “Las Vegas has pools bar none, and our job is to make sure our babies are safe.”

In April 2005, Cierra Sonetti of Las Vegas had a life-changing experience when her 17-month-old son, Austin, was found under a solar pool cover during a family gathering.

“Six o’clock comes around, and no one can find Austin,” Sonetti said. “No one saw him. No one heard him until my husband pulled back the pool cover.” 

Austin was trapped under the pool cover in the water for 39 minutes without oxygen. When paramedics arrived, he had a pulse of eight beats per minute.

Austin, now 9, survived the incident, but the lack of oxygen left him with many health issues. He requires 24-hour care because of his sporadic seizures and cases of pneumonia.

Although unable to speak, Austin still manages to laugh and smile.

“This can happen to a good mom like myself or a doctor’s child,” Sonetti said. “It can happen to anyone.”

On average, eight children drown each year in Southern Nevada, according to the drowning prevention coalition.

Of the 54 submersion incidents reported by the Southern Nevada Health District last year, 72 percent were children younger than 5, and 68 percent were in residential pools.

Seven incidents were fatal. Five of those were children.

To keep children safe, officials suggest memorizing the ABC & Ds of drowning prevention: adult supervision, barriers, classes and devices.

A designated adult should always be present when children are playing in the pool, and parents should always know where their children are inside the house.

“A drowning can occur in a matter of seconds in any body of water,” said Anita Wood, a North Las Vegas City councilwoman. “It is imperative to always remain in visual contact of a child in a pool.”

Barriers, such as a 60-inch, non-climbable fence, should surround a pool to keep children out. Power-operated pool covers provide more safety than solar or floating covers because children cannot slip underneath them.

“Installation of proper barriers can delay a child’s access to a pool,” County Commissioner Susan Brager said. “It’s amazing how smart our children are. They can figure how to get around anything.”

Adults should take CPR courses and sign their children up for swimming classes, officials said.

“Swimming classes are a gift of life,” said Timothy Szymanski, spokesman for the Las Vegas Fire Department. “But remember, they do not make children ‘drown-proof.’ ”

A phone should be in close reach in case of an emergency, and children should wear proper-fitting flotation devices such as life jackets while in the pool.

“Floaties and inflatable toys are not considered flotation devices,” said Jeanne Marsala, director of Safe Kids.

Between 1998 and 2012, child drownings dropped from 11.5 per 100,000 to 3.5 per 100,000 in Southern Nevada.

Drownings are preventable, reiterated Gregory Blackburn, chairman of the drowning prevention coalition.

“We do not need a laboratory cure,” he said. “We have a cure. We have the ABC & Ds. It’s all preventable.”

Contact reporter Caitlyn Belcher at cbelcher@
reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0264.

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