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May National Drowning Prevention Month: A Story of Heartbreak and Hope

“People have this idea that drowning happens to irresponsible parents. I don’t think they realize that it happens to the most vigilant of parents, too.”

– Emily Smith Buhler, Mom of 3

When you speak to Emily Smith Buhler, her passion for water safety is infectious, her resolve unwavering. With tears streaming, she recalls the day that she nearly lost her son, three-year-old Soren, to drowning at the bottom of a friend’s pool, and she’s on a mission to share her story of heartbreak and hope in order to prevent even one more drowning.

“I’ve always loved the water, and I’ve always been a vigilant parent,” says Emily. “I grew up swimming competitively and worked as a lifeguard for three years, so when I had kids, I knew I wanted water to be a big part of their lives.”

Emily enrolled daughter Cecilia and older son Anders in year-round swim lessons three years ago at Aqua-Tots Swim Schools in Cary, North Carolina. “Every Monday, we would drive 40 minutes one way to go to swim lessons. That’s how important it was to me,” she recalls. “But I waited to enroll Soren. I thought I could wait.” However, during one visit to a friend’s pool, Emily would experience a mother’s greatest nightmare, seeing her son’s lifeless body at the bottom of the pool.

May is National Drowning Prevention Month, a time to pause and acknowledge the reality of drowning. According to The Consumer Product Safety Commission, “69% of children younger than five years were not expected to be at or in the pool at the time of a drowning incident.”

“When Cecilia screamed that Soren was dead, I remember looking down and thinking, ‘How can he be dead? He’s right here.’ He wasn’t supposed to be swimming. He was supposed to be in the yard,” Emily continues. “Now I know that drowning happens when kids are supposed to be doing something other than swimming. It’s when you’re in the beach house. It’s when you’re packing up to leave the pool. It’s when you’re talking to a friend.”

Because drowning is silent.

“As much as I don’t want to live with the pain of this, I don’t regret what I’ve learned from it. I’ve learned that life is so precious. I will be able to carry that with me for the rest of my life. Not everyone gets the outcome that I got. I don’t want to take it for granted. What keeps me going is hoping to help other people. That’s a part of the healing process.”

At Aqua-Tots Swim Schools, we get up every morning on a mission to keep children safe in and around the water, and experiences like Soren’s reaffirm that resolve. While we are eternally grateful for stories of survival, we soar on stories of safety and believe all children deserve a lifetime of such.

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