On Dec. 16, 2006, Lindsey Black received a phone call she didn’t want.
The Gilbert mother’s two sons were at their grandparents’ house in Glendale being watched by a babysitter, and Lindsey received the news that her 22-month-old son, Santana, had fallen into the family pool. No one had any idea how long the child had been floating at the bottom of it.
That day changed their lives, Lindsey Black told a crowd of more than 100 firefighters, paramedics, family members of water-related incident victims and hospital staff at Phoenix Children’s Hospital on Tuesday.
Numerous agencies, including SRP’s Safety Connection, LaZBoy Furniture Galleries, PCH’s Water Watchers, Southwest Ambulance and numerous fire departments throughout the Valley, kicked off the 9th Annual Drowning Impact Awareness Month, which begins Aug. 1. The event focused on educating people to take the necessary steps to prevent such tragedies during one of the most active months around water by following four key steps: supervision, implementing barriers with locks, knowing how to perform CPR and teaching children how to swim.
The kick-off for the drowning prevention event, which focused on toddlers, came a day after a 1-year-old boy was pulled from a family’s swimming pool in Mesa, at least the 33rd water-related incident reported in the East Valley since Jan. 1, according to statistics compiled by Children’s Safety Zone, a nonprofit that compiles water-related incidents for Maricopa and Pinal counties. Of those, there have been five child fatalities in the East Valley since that time.
The 1-year-old in Mesa is expected to recover, according to authorities, but Santana, who now is 7, wasn’t quite as lucky.
After nearly two months in the hospital — including five days on a ventilator and nine days in ICU — Santana survived the horrific near-drowning experience and went home on Feb. 1, 2007.
Living in a wheelchair, Santana cannot talk, has neurological limitations, eats through a feeding tube and requires around-the-clock care after numerous surgeries in various states.
“It’s incredible Santana is alive,” Black said. “A lot of people hear that when someone survives a drowning, they’re going to be OK,” Black said. “Well, they’re not always OK. I never thought I’d give up my life’s dreams to be a nurse to my son. This has changed our lives completely. Traveling at the last minute no longer is possible as sometimes it is too hot or too dusty for Santana. And when we go, we have to pack oxygen tanks and breathing tubes.”
Although the experience has strengthened their family, Black added, “This has affected us all, our children (sons Jett, 9, and Tyree, 4) who have had to grow up faster and their friends. My dream now is for everyone to have a fence around their pool. CPR skills would also make a difference. A life like this is difference you do not want to endure. It’s important to watch your kids as much as you can.”
Santana’s grandparents’ pool had a fence around it, but the children were playing in a side yard of the residence that allowed access to the pool.
Among the other speakers at Tuesday’s event were Debra Stevens, director of marketing and communications at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Phoenix city councilmen Daniel Valenzuela and Tom Simplot, and Eddie Riegso, firefighter and EMT for the Drexel Heights Fire District.
Simplot said that as a young boy living in the Midwest, he was stuck under the tarp of a swimming pool, but was able to crawl out from under it through a small opening in the tarp. That incident was the basis for him to later become a lifeguard and teach swimming lessons.
Since 2000, there have been more than 1,400 water-related incidents in Maricopa County, and this year alone, 10 children have died from water or pool-related incidents, according to statistics from the Children’s Safety Zone.
Many of the people in attendance at Phoenix Children’s Hospital tied purple ribbons to trees outside the hospital’s conference center to honor a drowning or near-drowning victim and 10 pairs of shoes were placed nearby to memorialize each child who drowned this year. Gov. Jan Brewer and more than 25 mayors throughout Arizona also are set to sign a Drowning Impact Awareness Month proclamation.
Riegso said, “A day we don’t receive any drowning calls is a good day.”
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