Health & Fitness

Youngsters taught water safety in wake of many drowning deaths

Nicklaus Children's Hospital injury prevention specialist Tara Hills, left, adjusts the chin strap on a new bike helmet for Virginia Walters, 10, of Miramar, during the eighth annual Summer Safety Splash on Saturday, May 14, 2016 at Haulover Beach Park.
Nicklaus Children's Hospital injury prevention specialist Tara Hills, left, adjusts the chin strap on a new bike helmet for Virginia Walters, 10, of Miramar, during the eighth annual Summer Safety Splash on Saturday, May 14, 2016 at Haulover Beach Park. mhalper@miamiherald.com

Drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. among children under the age of 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sadly, Florida leads the nation in child drownings.

In an effort to save lives, several South Florida public agencies, institutions and nonprofits are working together to raise awareness and promote water safety.

This month, National Water Safety Month, Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces held its eighth annual Summer Safety Splash, a collaboration with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, the Miami-Dade Drowning Prevention Coalition and Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.

“The goal is a drowning-free summer,” said Capt. Luiz Morizot of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s Ocean Rescue team. “The only way we can overcome these statistics is by informing the community.”

On Saturday, Ocean Rescue lifeguards performed beach rescue demonstrations at a safety event at Haulover Beach Park. They also explained powerful rip currents, how to interpret the different warning flags at the beach, CPR procedures, resources on swimming lessons, and free bike helmets for children.

Due to South Florida’s warm weather and inviting flat ocean waters, Morizot said his team is busy trying to keep beachgoers safe year round, especially on Memorial Day weekend, Fourth of July and Labor Day holidays when accidents are more common.

The Florida Department of Health website states unintentional drowning is the leading cause of injury death for children ages 1 to 4. Both fatal and nonfatal drowning accidents occur most often in swimming pools for this age group. Drowning accidents for teens ages 15-17 occurs most often in the ocean, lakes and rivers.

Alfredo Cancelo, an Ocean Rescue lifeguard, emphasized the importance of teaching children to swim at an early age as the best way to prevent drownings.

“Swimming classes should be mandatory in schools,” he said. “People don’t see it as a necessity, but it could mean the difference between life and death.

Drowning accidents can happen anywhere, as J.C. Quintana and his wife, Trudy, tragically learned. In 2013, their 2-year-old son, Kyan, drowned at the family’s pool. Three weeks after the accident they founded the nonprofit Kyan’s Kause and have made it their mission to educate people about drowning prevention by sharing their story and funding free swimming lessons.

“When our son passed, we looked for local organizations for support and to get involved, but really there weren’t a lot of options. That’s how Kyan’s Kause was born. This is an act to prevent others from walking in our path,” Quintana said.

Quintana estimates Kyan’s Kause has provided about 2,000 swimming scholarships to date. The organization organizes free swimming lessons at various locations throughout the county, in after school programs and summer camps. There is a registration fee.

Kyan’s Kause, which received a U.S. Presidential Award for Service and numerous proclamations from Miami-Dade County Public Schools, recently held an annual fundraiser and water safety event at Grapeland Water Park, where Quintana staged a mock drowning and rescue similar to their accident in an effort to impact parents and their children.

“It’s an eye opener for them,” Quintana said. “It gives us purpose and it’s been therapeutic for my wife and me.”

More information

The next Kyan’s Kause event is the Summer Beach Bash on Saturday, June 4, at Marlins Park.

Swimming lessons for children and adults are available at nine Miami-Dade parks ($10-$60 for 10 lessons) and various YMCA of South Florida locations. Other nonprofits, including Swim for Jenny, also award free swimming scholarships.

More information and resources are available at www.miamidadedrowningpreventioncoalition.org

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