• Article
  • May 23, 2018

Amid Increased Drownings, Hospital’s Drowning Prevention Campaign Ups the Ante

Following 77 drowning incidents last year, Cook Children's remains vigilant.

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 two years 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 17th 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 launched a campaign last year 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.

Despite the prevention efforts, the drowning numbers at Cook Children's remain high. There were 77 drownings, including five fatalities, in 2017, the most recorded by the hospital in the past six years.  "The numbers are telling us a lot—they say we really need to stay in this fight," says Wini King, assistant vice president of Corporate & Community Affairs at Cook Children's. "We are going to be in this for the long haul. We have to be patient and we have to be vigilant."

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. "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 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

The social media strategy includes a digital ad campaign featuring a series of short videos aimed at driving parental vigilance around water. Additionally, the hospital is producing a longer-form video—a candid conversation featuring several parents of drowning victims. King says this will give those parents an opportunity to tell their stories, as well as provide a support system for each other.

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 about drowning

"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.