• Article
  • July 5, 2017

Hospital's Drowning Prevention Campaign Asks Parents to Think Like Lifeguards

When 28 children were admitted for near-drowning injuries in one month, Cook Children's took action.

After almost drowning when he was 3, Jack Hart is thriving today with no lasting health issues.
After almost drowning when he was 3, Jack Hart is thriving today with no lasting health issues.

It's been almost a year since Khala Hart's little boy nearly died.

On July 30, 2016, Khala and her husband, Chad, attended a pool party with two of their children, Caleb and Jack. Jack was just 3 years old at the time, and he was a pro when it came to wearing his lifejacket. When he was finished swimming that day, he took his lifejacket off. Khala thought he was with Chad; Chad thought he was with Khala. But when they turned their eyes to the water, they saw Jack lying face down at the bottom of the pool. He was motionless.

"There were adults all around, there were kids in the pool—and nobody saw Jack go in," says Khala Hart, Jack's mother and a nurse in her 16th year in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Cook Children's Health Care System in Fort Worth, Texas. "It was that fast and that silent."

Khala initiated CPR on Jack, but the host of the party took over when it became overwhelming for her because she was trying to save her own child. "I just thought, 'This is it,'" she says. "I thought he was going to die." Jack was taken by ambulance to Cook Children's, where he was in the PICU before he was discharged only a few days after the incident with no lasting health issues.

"I never would have thought we would have been in this position," Khala says. "I have always been confident about our swim safety. I would say that this can happen to anybody."

Drowning: A leading cause of death in children

A campaign to prevent drowning

Cook Children's recently launched a campaign called Lifeguard Your Child, its third drowning-prevention campaign in as many years. It all started in June 2015, when 28 children were admitted to the hospital for near-drowning injuries. This was about three times the typical number of patients seen for near-drowning injuries in previous years.

"It hit us very hard," says Wini King, assistant vice president of Corporate & Community Affairs at Cook Children's. "When you have 28 kids who are admitted to a hospital for near drowning, it went all through us. That's almost a child a day." In July 2015, King and her team launched a drowning-awareness program called Watch Your Child. In 2016, the campaign became Protect Your Child.

This year, Lifeguard Your Child, which asks parents and adults to watch children in the water with the mindset of a lifeguard, aims to up the ante. Because despite all efforts, the drowning numbers at Cook's are still too high, King says. "Parents go to ballet class and recitals; they go to baseball and soccer games, and you see how involved and intent parents are when they are at these activities," says King. "They are watching every moment. They're really engaged. But when it comes to poolside activity, the engagement goes way down and things start happening when you're not watching like you are at a football or soccer game."

Elements of the campaign

The Lifeguard Your Child campaign aims to educate the community about water safety and drowning prevention using a series of tactics. Here are some of them:

  • Distributing water safety packages to Pre-K students in the Fort Worth area
  • Using billboard ads to show the Lifeguard Your Child message in high-traffic areas
  • Posting signage at hundreds of pools throughout the region, especially at apartment complexes where there is no lifeguard
  • Building a drowning-prevention display at Cook Children's to educate parents about water safety
  • Creating and executing a social media strategy

Advice for children's hospitals

King and her team analyzed drowning trends at their own institution and created a campaign tailored to their needs and trends. King says that no matter what is happening nationally, other children's hospitals should do the same. "See what is happening at your hospital," she says. "Then get passionate about doing something about it. Because drowning is so preventable. It's not cancer; it's not a neurological issue; it's not heart disease. We can prevent children from being part of this."

A tip to share with parents and families

"We have found that there is a time that is most dangerous for children: when you have taken the kids out of the water," King adds. "Once you're packing up and not paying attention to the child, that child goes back into the water. So as soon as you get out of the pool, be sure you know where all the heads are and that they are in front of you. Not behind you."

Access Lifeguard Your Child materials

Access drowning-prevention materials, including tips, messages and social media toolkit from Cook Children's that you can adapt for use at your own institution.

Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.