"I watched as Allie quickly and quietly sank," Kelly Gaines, now-Owner of Charlotte Aquatics says, recounting the moment she almost lost her two-year-old to drowning 21 years ago.
As the heat tempts you to spend your upcoming days on the lake and at the pool, Charlotte mom and business owner Kelly Gaines warns other parents to keep water safety in mind at all times.
"It was a beautiful, spring day in 1998," she recalls, "The sun was shining, a slight breeze was blowing, and I was planting flowers in my backyard." Gaines calls it "the perfect day," as many spring days in Charlotte can feel.
She was gardening, and her two-year-old, Allie, was playing with her toys. Gaines didn't know it when she was digging, but apparently one of Allie's toys had fallen into the pool. Allie began to reach for the toy, though it had already sunk to the bottom.
As Allie reached, she lost her balance, as toddlers do.
"I happened to look up just in time to see Allie topple into the pool. I watched as Allie quickly and quietly sank," Gaines says with a tone suggesting it had happened only yesterday. "I knew at that moment that, if I had not been present, my daughter would have drowned."
Gaines assumed her child falling into the pool would be, well, louder.
"I had always thought if my daughter ever fell in our pool, I would clearly know. Contrary to what I had always believed, there was none of the flailing and splashing I thought would occur," she says. There were no sounds to alert her, when you have 20 seconds or less before your child can lose consciousness, the window of time to notice the tragedy is slim. Unfortunately, drowning is a quick and silent killer—and it's the second-leading cause of accidental death in children aged one to 14 years old.
Gaines, remembering that terrifying spring day in 1998, says, "That day, I enrolled her in swim lessons at Charlotte Aquatics."
That was 21 years ago. Allie is now 23, and Gaines now owns Charlotte Aquatics. "It's interesting how things work out," Gaines says.
8 Ways To Keep Your Child Safe Near the Water
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, most young children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight for less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time. Gaines, a Safe Kids Charlotte Mecklenburg board member, has dedicated her life's work to ensuring no parents in Charlotte have to face the sad fate of a child drowning. In addition to running Charlotte Aquatics, Gaines leads Water Safety Story Time at elementary and preschools around the community. She also hosts water safety and drowning prevention talks for parent groups.
To keep your child safe from drowning, below are Gaines's top tips.
1. Enroll your children in a water safety or learn to swim program. It has been shown that children who have swim lessons have an 88 percent less chance of drowning. Charlotte Aquatics provides swim lessons for children beginning at six months old. Click here to learn more about booking swim lessons in Charlotte.
2. Never leave a child unattended in a pool, hot tub, or bathtub. Not even for a moment. Adult supervision is essential.
3. Always designate a responsible adult to serve as the “Water Watcher." A Water Watcher is a supervisor whose sole responsibility is to constantly observe children in or near the water. Gaines says the Water Watcher should maintain continuous visual and auditory contact with children in or near the water. Additionally, the Water Watcher should not engage in distracting behaviors such as talking on the phone, preparing a meal, or reading. The Water Watcher should keep children who cannot swim within arm's reach at all times.
4. Have a phone by the pool. This way, you can dial 911 quickly in case of an emergency.
5. Keep rescue equipment by the pool. Life vests, life rafts, ropes, whistles, and the like.
6. Enclose the pool completely with a barrier. Fences should be at least five feet high and have self-latching, self-closing gates. Layers of protection are important, so consider using door and pool alarms as well as pool safety covers. As the old adage says, it is certainly better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to your child's life.
7. Parents and caregivers should learn CPR. Be sure to learn CPR for both infants and children (different steps are taken).
8. Educate children about the rules of water safety. Enter the water feet-first, don't run by the pool, swim with a friend, and more.
Cheat Sheet: The ABCs of Water Safety
Gaines realizes it may not be feasible for every parent to be a drowning prevention expert. Thus, she says, she's developed a simple mnemonic device: "The ABCs of Water Safety," she calls it.
A = Adult supervision is always needed.
B = Barriers. Make sure there are multiple layers of protection around the pool or spa.
C = Classes. Enroll your child in swim lessons, and learn CPR if you don't know it.
"I am lucky that my story ended happily," Gaines says. "Many others are not as fortunate."
For information about booking swim lessons for your child in Charlotte, call 704-341-9673 or visit CharlotteAquatics.com.