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I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me

Updated: Oct 2, 2019

Why didn’t I know….

Jackson James

Why didn’t I know that drowning was the leading cause of accidental death of toddlers BEFORE my son died? My son was 18-months-old when he lost his life in a drowning accident. I took him to his pediatrician for a well check doctor's visit 4 days before his accident. Did he mention anything about drowning? NO. It could have been so simple. I often imagine a conversation we could have had that would have changed everything:

“Do you have a pool in your backyard?”


“What safety measures do you have in place to protect your son?”

Uh, I lock the dog-door.

“Did you know that drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in children your son’s age? Toddlers are fast and sneaky. What if he snuck out of that dog-door without you noticing? Do you have a fence?”

Well, I guess I never really thought about that since I’m so careful about locking the dog door. We don’t have a fence.

“Layers of protection are so important to protect these little ones from this danger. Here is a little bit more information about what measures you can take”. (He hands me an educational pamphlet).

30 SECONDS. This 30-second-long conversation could have educated me and saved my son from drowning. Instead, I was informed I should lock up chemicals and laundry detergents to protect my son. My son snuck out when I forgot to lock the dog door and drowned in our backyard pool. We thought he was safe, playing upstairs with his older sisters.

Jackson spent a week in intensive care at Children's Memorial Hermann in Houston, TX. Day 4, he was diagnosed brain dead. Day 7, he donated his heart, liver and kidneys.

I considered myself a very safe mother. As an emergency department nurse, I have seen children in a variety of injuries. Because of this, I have stair gates, outlet covers and appropriate car seats. My kids wear helmets while riding bikes and I don’t let my toddlers on trampolines (too many broken legs!) I have my chemicals in a child proofed cabinet or locked up high. But why didn’t I know about drowning? Why aren’t we talking about it?

In 2018, Live Like Jake, a foundation dedicated to bringing awareness to drowning prevention, conducted a survey of nearly 8,000 people from 43 different states. When asked “Has your pediatrician ever spoken to you about water safety?” 85% said NO. “Has your pediatrician ever asked you if you had a pool or lived on water?” 81% said NO.

Last year, I sent my pediatrician an email, asking him how I could get pediatricians more active with providing this education at well checks. At this time, I had already taken my son Asher to him for his 1 year well check and there was no mention of drowning prevention.

His response:

“Pediatric education at well visits is ultimately up to each physician and what they want to emphasize which could be different for each family. Unfortunately, you could educate each family on a whole host of issues for hours and still never cover every possible danger that children can find themselves in. Even with proper precautions and supervision, sometimes several things line up in the wrong way at the wrong time with terrible results. As a result, most practices counsel more in generalities about supervision and safety for children.”

I understand, we can’t expect our pediatrician's to warn us about everything. However, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death and it is 100% PREVENTABLE. I think my pediatrician is great, that’s why he is still my children's pediatrician, but if other's think they same way he does, no wonder we have a problem.

Seatbelts. In 1980, seatbelt use was only at 11%. That year, 22.48 people per population of 100,000 died in a car accident. In 2016, seatbelt use has increased to 91% and fatalities have decreased by nearly 50%.

Do you think this is a coincidence? Seat belt laws, car seat laws, education to parents about car seats, PSAs, “Click it or Ticket”, billboards, commercials, education at public schools and in pediatrician offices… the list goes on and on. Parents talk about this and they know what is considered to be most safe for their children.

Jackson James, rear facing at 18 months old

Why aren't we talking about this more?

One theory could be is a grossly negative stigma surrounds childhood drowning deaths. “What a horrible parent. I can’t believe she wasn’t watching her child. That would never happen to me.”

Parents of this tragedy already face so much guilt and pain. Having other people, who don’t even know them, scrutinize them on public social media platforms, is devastating. This stigma kept me from sharing Jackson's story for nearly two years.

Another theory, people think these accidents are unpreventable. Like my own pediatrician said, you can be doing everything right, but fate takes over and accidents happen. But this isn't true. If I had a pool fence, my son would not have drowned. If I had a secure door with an alarm, my son would not have drowned. If I had my son in survival-based swim lessons (instead of parent-child water acclimation classes) he would not have drowned.

At your child’s next well check, please mention including drowning prevention education if they neglect to do so. This information might change someone’s way of thinking, make them create more layers of protection and save their child’s life.

I wish I would have known. Thank you.

P.S. Summer 2018, I made educational pamphlets for my hospital on childhood drowning prevention and dispersed them to area physician offices. When I took my son in for his 15-month checkup, I was happy to see these pamphlets front and center at the receptionist desk. WE CAN MAKE A CHANGE AND WE WILL SAVE LIVES.

Pediatrician office

~Jenny Bennett. Emergency Room Nurse. Mother of 4 children. Founder of Swim Safe Forever Northwest Houston Chapter and founding member of Parent's Preventing Childhood Drowning.

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