SALT LAKE CITY — Chris Miles will never forget the moment she saw her grandson floating facedown in the pool in her backyard. Her story, she says, “was horrific and scary, and could have been so horrible but had a good outcome.”
As she spoke, her 3-year-old grandson, Nathan, watched from his dad’s arms. The family, who spoke at a press conference organized by safety advocates, hopes its story will forewarn other parents of the dangers of drowning.
According to the Utah Department of Health, drowning is the third-leading cause of injury-related death for children ages 1-14 in Utah.
On average, drowning causes the death of one Utahn and three are treated for near-drowning incidents every two weeks.
The nearly tragic event occurred last August while Nathan was spending time at his grandmother's. His parents, Allie and Todd Miles, were in the neonatal intensive care unit with their youngest child, Sammy.
"I thought, ‘Well it's a nice day to go for a swim,’ I got all of the cousins to come and we had a very nice time swimming," Chris Miles said.
After swimming the family went indoors, the children had changed and were playing in the living room.
"Obviously I should have closed the pool," she said.
She went upstairs to make the bed and when she came back down, Nathan's cousin asked where he was.
"Fear struck my heart."
Miles said one of the first thoughts she had was to check the pool. She ran outside and walked around the pool but did not immediately see him. Just as she was about to head back into the house, she said something stopped her and made her check again.
"As I kept walking and got closer to the edge of the pool, I saw him facedown in the pool next to the edge," she said.
Though she had not been trained in CPR, Miles said she knew, after pulling her unconscious grandson out of the water, that she had to do something.
She began blowing into his mouth and water started to come out. After repeating this a couple of times, she proceeded the best she could with chest compressions and yelled for help.
Her daughter, who knew CPR, came out of the house and together they administered first aid while paramedics were on their way.
"Right before (paramedics) took him over to the grass to take care of him, I saw Nathan's eyes flicker," Miles said, noting that "this was the first time that I thought he might be OK.”
Nathan's story had a happy ending. And his mother has recently enrolled him in swim lessons.
"He loves the water," his father said. After Friday's news conference, Nathan could be found smiling and swimming, under close supervision of his parents, in the Jewish Community Center's outdoor pool where the event took place.
However, many other families have not been as fortunate.
"We feel so grateful that we got lucky, that it was a miracle, because not all families get this lucky and get to have the outcome that we experienced," Allie Miles said, warning other parents to listen and take heed of safety tips.
Jessica Strong, community health manager at Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital, said "whether you are at home or a lake or a swimming pool this summer, one tip is to ensure that children are always supervised."
"Drowning can happen so fast," she said, noting that it is often silent. Attentive supervision is key, she warned.
- Head low in the water, mouth at water level.
- Head tilted back with mouth open.
- Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus or closed.
- Hair over forehead or eyes.
- Vertical in water — not using legs.
- Hyperventilating or gasping.
- Trying to roll over on the back or trying to swim but not making headway.
- Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder.
One of the best ways to keep children safe around water, she said, is to designate an adult to be the "dedicated water watcher."
Strong cautioned that water wings are not safe floatation devices.
"It's important that when you are playing near water you are using Coast Guard approved life jackets," she said.
According to a report released by Utah's Health Department, risks of drowning can vary depending on a child's age and location:
- 43 percent of child drownings occurred in open bodies of water, such as a river, stream, canal, lake or reservoir.
- 30 percent of child drownings occurred in a pool. The majority of these deaths occurred among children younger than 8.
- 18 percent of child drownings occurred in a bathtub. The majority of these deaths were among infants less than a year of age.
- 9 percent of child drowning deaths occurred in "other" locations.
- Never leave an infant or young child alone in the bathtub or with “older” siblings.
- When not in use, drain and keep kiddie pools and buckets out of reach from children.
- Teach children and teens to always swim with an adult.
- Learn CPR.
- If you are having a hard time locating your child, check areas where they might gain access to water first.