FORT WORTH — Faced with a dramatic increase in possible child drownings and two fatalities in 21 days, Fort Worth officials on Wednesday urged parents to diligently watch their children around water.

FORT WORTH — Faced with a dramatic increase in possible child drownings and two fatalities in 21 days, Fort Worth officials on Wednesday urged parents to diligently watch their children around water.

Fort Worth has had 53 near-drownings and four children have drowned since Oct. 1, 2014. From June 1 to July 7 this year, the Fire Department has responded to 34 calls reporting possible drownings, twice the number from the same period the last year.

"Kids drown quickly and they drown silently," said Kyle Falkner, a Fire Department spokesman. "Parents need to know how to swim, do CPR and watch their children in shifts. And you never take your eyes off your kids when they are around water."

The Fort Worth-Dallas area leads the state this year in child drownings with 18, followed by Houston with seven, of 47 total statewide, according to statistics from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

"It simply can’t continue," said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. "It’s an awareness issue and the city takes it seriously. We can make Fort Worth a much safer place for our children."

She was at the Bob Bolen Public Safety Complex for a "call to action," along with David Coble, Fort Worth Fire Department acting chief and Denise Doherty, director of emergency services for Cook Children’s Medical Center.

Even the most cautious of parents can meet with trouble when it comes to children and swimming pools.

Lori Johnson of Flower Mound, said her family had a near-fatal pool accident even though the pool was fenced, locked and had a net designed to keep children out. She also said they never let their children near the pool without a life jacket.

Her daughter, Jessica was 3 when she slipped soundlessly into the water. She had gone to the restroom with a friend, who had taken off her life jacket, Johnson said. The friend came out of the house while Jessica went to the restroom. Her husband was standing poolside, watching as five other children played.

No one saw Jessica come out of the house and slip back into the water until Johnson’s oldest son reached down for his pool shoes and saw the little girl face-down at the bottom of the pool, she said.

"There are images burned in my mind of her lifeless body under me while I’m giving her CPR and begging her to take a breath," Johnson said. "I still have nightmares about it. I wake up in the middle of the night and go into her bedroom to make sure she is still asleep in her bed."

Children who survive near-drowning can be disabled for life, Doherty said, depending on how long their brains are deprived of oxygen.

"It’s almost like suffering from a stroke," she said. "We find that most either do very well or they do very poorly. The greatest cost I think is the emotional cost to the parents who have to adapt to this new traumatic stress in their children’s lives."

Jessica still has short-term memory issues and has shown signs of hyperactivity, Johnson said. It is difficult to determine whether her hyperactivity would have developed without her near-drowning experience or if it is a residual effect, but the short-term memory loss came from oxygen deprivation, Johnson said.

Jessica is taking swimming lessons and Johnson is talking to parents who attend swimming safety classes, she said.

"I can very rarely tell the story without crying," Johnson said. "It’s still difficult to talk about, like taking a scab off of a healing wound. I feel like the parents who attend my classes are very interested in not having this happen to their child. Occasionally, a parent will thank me for being willing to reopen the wound."

Parents cannot socialize, talk to their friends on their cell phones, surf the Internet, or be distracted in any way when their children are in the water, said Hope Caldwell, a YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth spokeswoman.

If there is a pool party adults should be assigned shifts for watch duty. Drowning prevention experts recommend 15-minute shifts.

Mike Drivdahl, the Fort Worth Firefighters Charities’ public relations director, emphasized that keeping your eyes on your children every second really means keeping your eyes on your children every second.

Firefighters Charities will post new signs with drowning prevention messages at all the community pools in Fort Worth, whether they are in apartment complexes or they are neighborhood association pools, Drivdahl said.

"People feel like as long as they are in the area they are doing their job," Drivdahl said. "That’s not necessarily the case. In just two seconds a child can slip away from you and go to the bottom of the pool."

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

By the Numbers

73: The number of children who drowned statewide last year, most between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

79: The average number of children who have drowned in Texas during the past five years.

17: The number of near drownings in Fort Worth since Oct. 1, 2014 in which children took off their life vest or floatation device and then climbed back into a pool

Source: Fort Worth fire department, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services


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