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National Water Safety Month: A Story of Heartbreak & Hope

May is National Water Safety Month, and during this time we pause to acknowledge the realities of drowning and reflect on why we do what we do. After all, drowning is silent, and claims the lives of over 3,900 people every year in the United States alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is why we are determined to help spread drowning prevention awareness with our families, staff and communities.

An Aqua-Tots Family’s Story of Drowning Awareness

When you speak to one Aqua-Tots mom, 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. Today, she’s on a mission to share her story of heartbreak and hope in order to prevent even one more drowning. Please take a moment to watch her harrowing story.

The Importance of Drowning Prevention Awareness for Children

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.” That is only one of many drowning statistics that surprise caregivers when it comes to drowning awareness, and they are often unaware of several myths about drowning.

In Emily’s case, she, too, considered herself a vigilant, educated parent around the water. “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. 

“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.

A Mission to Share Awareness on Drowning Prevention

Emily’s family is among the most fortunate to have a precious child who survived a drowning incident. Thanks to her quick response, CPR training, first responders and medical team, Soren is a happy, healthy, thriving boy today. Emily says, “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.”

 Three Ways to Prevent Drowning

Awareness gives people the power to recognize things they were unaware of before, and the importance of water safety is something that all people should know. Here are three ways to actively help prevent drowning incidents:

  • Swim Lessons: Participation in formal swim lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88% among children ages 1-4 years old. Keeping children enrolled in year-round swim lessons is more than a fun activity and serves as a safety measure in line with car seats and a life skill in line with reading and writing. Learning how to roll over and float, how to find air, how to get to the pool’s edge and get out of the water are skills that save children’s lives on a daily basis.
  • Supervision: Water safety comes with multiple layers of protection. From locks and barriers to certified life vests and CPR training, a vigilant caregiver is one who recognizes that water is all around us at all times. Constant supervision, however, plays one of the most significant roles in keeping children safe in and around the water. Children can drown in as little as 20 seconds in as little as two inches of water. Bathtubs and buckets, backyard pools and waterparks, lakes and oceans—water is everywhere, and children are curious. We encourage you to avoid distractions (cell phones, books, magazines, chatting with friends, sun bathing) when children are in or around the water, and commit your focus to their safety. If you and your family are going to be around the pool, be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Pool Safety to prepare prior to splashing.
  • Share: Please share this message with friends and family who have children around the water. Your voice may be the one that reminds them of the realities of drowning and gives them the urgency to watch closer, remain attentive and be proactive. Together, you can come alongside our mission to save lives by sharing this blog and Emily’s story to help educate others on the realities of drowning and what they can do to remain safe in and around the water.

At Aqua-Tots Swim Schools, we get up every morning on a mission to keep children safe, 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.