By Erika Webb
Historically summer is a time of happy-memory making. Activities, freedom from structure, travel and times spent with family. Those joys are carried into adulthood to be taken out of storage and looked at fondly now and then.
But for far too many families, one summer can ruin all of the rest and stop memory making in its tracks.
Every day, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Florida Hospital Fish Memorial and Becky Puhl, a certified infant aquatics instructor and drowning prevention specialist, hosted a free water safety class July 11 at All Leaders Pre-School in Orange City to show parents how to keep their children safe near water.
Hers was one of many summer safety events being hosted all over the county.
Ms. Puhl is the owner of Swim with Becky and Friends in Deltona.
She began teaching in West Volusia County in 1998 and has taught more than 1,500 children survival skills and stroke technique. She also teaches adults.
During the event, she discussed various ways drowning can occur.
"For example, people don't think about a cooler or a toilet," she said in a phone interview, "even doggie doors. There was a drowning a couple of years ago in Deltona (and that's what) happened."
"If you're not the parent and somebody's visiting, you might not think about everything," she added.
Often, at large gatherings where water is nearby, people aren't watching, she explained. It is assumed someone else is watching the child or children.
Those are the kind of scenarios of which she wants people to be aware.
Secondary drowning is the "latest hype" and all over social media, Ms. Puhl said.
Dr. Judith D. Mathura, a family medicine physician at the hospital, said the American Heart Association considers the unofficial term secondary, or dry, drowning ambiguous.
"(The phenomenon) occurs after what appears to be a near drowning," Dr. Mathura said. "It is aspiration of fluid or reflex laryngeal spasm."
Fluid buildup in the lungs causes difficulty breathing, according to an article on webmd.com.
"A person who had a drowning close call can be out of the water and walking around normally before signs of dry drowning become apparent. But all dry drowning results in breathing trouble and brain injury, just as drowning in the water does. If untreated, it can be fatal," the article stated.
"That's why it's important that children learn proper breath control," Ms. Puhl explained. "Our natural instinct is to breathe."
"My mother had me in the water before I was one year old," Ms. Puhl said.
She competed in her first exhibition race at age 6, swam competitively through high school and earned her lifeguard certification.
In 2005, Ms. Puhl earned a bachelor's degree in psychology. She participated in two internships at Easter Seals in DeLand where she worked with children with autism spectrum disorders, pervasive developmental disorders, low muscle tone, speech delays and other disabilities.
"I understand the importance of connecting with these families for support and advice," she said.
She was inspired to help those with disabilities after teaching a boy diagnosed with autism at two years old.
As an active member of the Drowning Prevention Task Force and National Drowning Prevention Alliance, Ms. Puhl has presented to various mothers' groups, pre-schools and other schools.
"My goal is to build an indoor aquatics facility so that I can teach lessons year round and to be able to provide lessons to underprivileged children within my community," she said.
Danielle Johnson, the hospital's chief operating officer, is passionate about drowning prevention.
"The most devastating thing that could ever happen to a family is to lose a child," Ms. Johnson said in a phone interview. "Drowning undermines the total fabric of the family. For us at Florida Hospital Fish, we are a healthcare partner for the community's health and well-being."
The hospital's ability to offer child and family safety and awareness programs helps parents protect their children and provides children with survival skills, she said.
A Summer Safety News Conference at Cypress Aquatic Center in Daytona Beach July 10 featured several speakers, including City of Daytona Beach representatives, Daytona Beach Fire Chief Dru Driscoll, Volusia County Health Department Director Dr. Bonnie J. Sorensen and SafeKids Director Steve Parris.
The three agencies are partnering to raise awareness about pool safety measures in an effort to prevent drowning and near drowning accidents in Volusia.
"The message that the Department of Health had was related to drowning awareness, particularly for children under the age of five, because Florida leads the nation in drowning in that age group," the department's environmental manager Paul Minshew explained in a phone interview.
In that particular age group, he added, drowning is a "silent killer."
"Toddlers don't thrash; a child that age sinks to the bottom," he said. "It's quick, sudden and can happen when you turn your back (for) an instant."
Following the news conference, local instructors took to the pool to teach participants how to swim.
Daytona Beach Fire Department Lt. Larry Storey said the event was designed to help parents understand the importance of keeping their eyes on their children at all times.
"We cannot stress that enough," Lt. Storey said. "Children under the age of five are very curious."
They remember how to get out of locked doors, he explained, adding door alarms are good preventive measures.
Even better, he said, is the practice of removing ladders from above ground pools when the pools are not in use, and erecting a safety fence around or covering in-ground pools.
He also advised taking a circuitous route to pools, such as through the garage, avoiding using the doors leading directly to pool areas so that children won't be as likely to slip out a door closest to the pool.
"Programs teaching kids to swim, that's what we really want to stress," Lt. Storey said. "The City of Daytona Beach Leisure Services or for people not in the Daytona Beach area, the YMCA, or programs like Becky's can teach children as young as six months."
For families that cannot afford lessons, he said, there are many scholarships available.
With infants, Ms. Puhl initially works on breath control.
Nearly all -- 99 percent -- of her infant students are able to complete a short swim, roll over and float.
"A seven or eight-month old is only able to go two or three feet, but it's still propulsion," she said.
And it could be a lifesaver.
The hospital will partner with All Leaders Pre-School and Ms. Puhl to offer water safety classes for children 6 months to age 4 starting in mid-August, according to hospital spokeswoman Lindsay Rew.