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As Summer Approaches, Learning to Swim is Vital to Preventing Tragedies PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia   
Thursday, 21 June 2012 04:53

As temperatures climb up and schools let out, pools become ever more enticing. But doctors and lifeguards say learning to swim is vital to preventing tragedies.

"We do not see drownings and near drownings very often, but (when they do happen) unfortunately children are overrepresented in drownings and it can be very traumatic for them when they survive one.

Besides, there's the guilt that someone may have in knowing that they allowed it to happen, especially when it could be preventable", said Dr. Bruno Lewin of Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Los Angeles.

According to the Centers for Desease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the leading cause of death for children between one and fouryears- old.

The CDC estimates about ten people die from unintentional drowing every day. From 2005- 2009, there were an average of 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States.

The risk of drowning may be more acute for Latinos and African Americans. Statistics from USA Swimming Foundation reveal that 60% of minors from these ethnic groups don't know how to swim.

"The best way to prevent drowning is for kids to be enrolled in swimming lessons so they can know how to swim," said Lt. lifeguard Rafael Chang of the City of Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department.

The 27-year veteran, who often oversees public pools with capacity for over 400 people, said the most common problem he sees is a "lack of experience in the aquatic environment" that puts people at risk.

"You overestimate your capacity.You're trying to swim across the pool but being a little bit out of shape or not knowing how to swim properly gets you in trouble," Chang said.

Affordable swimming classes

Learning to swim doesn't have to be expensive. For 7th year in a row, Kaiser Permanente is joining with the City of Los Angeles to bring 6,000 swimming scholarships to 35 public pools as part of Operation Splash. The program also offers scholarships to youth wishing to take part in the junior lifeguard program.

Registration for the program starts on June 23rd.

Some of the facilities included in Operation Splash are located at Hubert Humphrey Park in Pacoima, Lanark Park in Canoga Park, Ritchie Valens Park in Pacoima, Sepulveda Recreation Center in Panorama City and North Hollywood Recreation Center in North Hollywood.

"It takes between two to three sessions for kids to get acclimated to the water. Once they get comfortable, then it's just a matter of practice," Chang said. Chang said regardless of whether people know how to swim or not, he and the lifeguards he trains and supervises practice "preventable lifeguarding".

"I tell them we get paid to get a suntan, we don't get paid to get wet", said Chang, who emphasized having an adult supervising kids in the pool all the time is the key to avoiding troubles.

"You just have to be vigilant all the time," he said, adding that his job can sometimes be "emotionally draining".

"You have to embrace the responsibility where you are in charge of somebody's life," he said.

Dangers in the Water

This is something Dr. Lewin knows very well.

He said drownings can occur even in very shallow water and even those who survive a drowning can be impacted physically for life.

"If the brain is not getting oxygen within 6 to 10 minutes, there's effects," Dr. Lewin said, noting that "brain injury is a possibility" even for those who are resuscitated in time.

Another issue to consider, especially in a public pool, is hygiene.

"It's not so much the water, but the germs or the chemicals found in public water venues that can make you sick.

Although chlorine kills some of those germs, it can take anywhere from minutes to days to work.

Being exposed to those germs can cause everything from the stomach flu to pink eye to ear infections," said Dr. Lewin.

He added even the chemicals to maintain public pools clean may also pose some risks, although in rare circumstances.

He said the degree of reaction to these chemicals' exposure depends on the amount of chemical one is exposed to them, whether you breathe it or touch it, and how long you're in contact with the chemical.

But he noted with a little prevention and hygiene, everyone should enjoy their time in the pool.

"We want to really encourage people to learn to swim if they don't know and for those that do, continue to do so! Swimming is a great exercise that not only provides many health benefits but its also a skill that can save lives.

If we all follow the appropriate safety and health measures, there is no need to fear illness or injury," Dr. Lewin said.

For more information about the scholarships offered by Operation Splash, visit or call (323) 906-7953.