A swim safety message that could save your child

SECONDS can be all that separates your child from life and death when it comes to surviving a near drowning.

And since the start of summer, close calls have occurred all too often in our local region, says NSW Ambulance Service Inspector Steve Towle.

Two weeks before his second birthday, a boy nearly lost his life when he fell into his family’s above ground pool at a Lighthouse Beach property yesterday.

His father rushed to perform CPR to save his son, who was struggling to breathe, and the boy was taken to the Port Macquarie Base Hospital in a serious to critical condition.

The previous day, a young girl was flown to John Hunter Hospital after a jet ski accident in Laurieton left her with neck and arm injuries.

“People just don’t think it’s going to happen to them,” said Jo-Ann Morris who nearly lost her then two-year-old son in a horrific near drowning accident in April, 2006. “He was in the deep end, face down – hovering just centimetres under the water,” Mrs Morris said of finding her son afloat in the family pool.  “I didn’t even get wet until after I scooped Samuel into my arms. I rolled him onto his back. He was heavy, lifeless, swollen, his eyes were bulging and starry, he was foaming at the mouth with blue around his lips and his nose and his skin was a strange pale yellow colour – he did not look like my son.”

Though Samuel survived, through the extraordinary efforts of his mother and Emergency Services, he was left with severe Hypoxic Brain Injury and suffers from a number of disabilities, including limb deformities and chronic lung disease. On average, Samuel is in hospital some six times a year and has a short life expectancy.

RIGHT now, he is in Westmead Children’s Hospital struggling with the crippling affects of pneumonia and seizures.  As she spoke from his hospital bed, Mrs Morris’s message for families was crystal clear.

“Make sure you are supervising your children at all times around any sort of water source,” she said. “Take it from a parent that is living this life – it is a horrible life – it is not nice watching your son die.”

Mrs Morris checked her pool fence twice to make sure it was closed that day, and could hear her children playing outside as she cleaned the house.

Later, her stepfather would discover a broken panel that Samuel had pushed over to get inside.

“They were safe in my backyard away from the pool area,” she said. “I relied on my four year old pool fence, I thought it was safe – I was terribly wrong.”

She hopes her message will hit home with locals, especially after the recent spike in near drownings.

The Morris family are the founders of the Samuel Morris Foundation which they formed to raise funds for children suffering from Hypoxic Brain Injury. She urged parents to teach their children how to swim as soon as possible, and to learn CPR to increase their chance of survival in case of the unthinkable.

“Kids are inquisitive and love water and so they should have fun with it but parents or carers need to supervise so that everyone is safe,” she said.

“I want people to know that if a child survives a drowning it doesn’t mean that they will be normal, nearly one quarter of all near drowning survivors are left with a brain injury that leaves them with disabilities for life.” 

In the past few days the Ambulance Service of NSW have responded to more than a dozen close calls across the State, with three serious incidents occurring in our own backyard.

Something, Mr Towle said, is cause for serious concern: “You only have to turn your head away for a very short time, and if there’s a way to get in somewhere they will,” Mr Towle said.

It can take as little as three minutes for a child to suffer from brain injuries, he said.

“Make sure the pool fences and surrounds are right up to scratch,” Mr Towle urged parents. “We all know little kids can move very quickly and we need to be on the look out at all times.”

The Swimming Academy owner Helen Todd said she had noticed a dramatic decrease in the number of parents taking their children for swimming lessons. She said giving your child swimming lessons was equally as important as teaching them to read or write, if not more so.

“Parents are just too busy, and the children are missing out,” Mrs Todd said. “But really you would never forgive yourself, how much is your child’s life worth.”

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