News 4 Lifesaver

Aug 23, 2012 9:00 PM

Pediatricians to write prescriptions for swim lessons

TUCSON - We have a few weeks left in our Kristi's Kids, News4 Tucson Lifesaver season. Since January 1, 2012, Pima County has seen one child drown in a bathtub.
Another nine kids have nearly drowned.

One is too many so local experts are bringing the Water S.M.A.R.T. Babies program to town.

Created in Broward County, Florida where they've recorded up to 12 fatalities in recent years, pediatricians play a key role in saving swimmers' lives. Along with other educational efforts, Broward County saw a 50% reduction in drownings of 5-year-olds and younger in one year after implementing S.M.A.R.T. Babies.

Dr. Julie Klein is a physician in the Pediatric Emergency Department at Tucson Medical Center. She's treated many children who've nearly drowned.

"Part of what's heartbreaking is that it is preventable."

Dr. Klein is excited for Water S.M.A.R.T. Babies which stands for Safety Materials and Rescue Techniques.

Basically, pediatricians write a prescription for swim lessons before a child turns one. While in the past, doctors feared exposing babies to water would eliminate a natural fear of water, new research shows many children have a natural curiosity of water.

In drownings of 1 to 2-year-olds, most of them gained access to a back yard swimming pool without the adult being aware.

"I interpret that as showing that many young toddlers are curious about water," says Dr. Klein.

The Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona (DPCA) is launching the program here.

"So basically what we want them to do at the 9 or 12 month well check is truly get in and go over this with the parent," says Tracey Fejt, DPCA Secretary. "And the prescription is for water safety lessons."

The parents also will receive information about all the layers of drowning prevention from the pediatrician at well baby checks.

Some think that's what made the Florida program so successful.

"We can talk to people all day about what you need to do. But when it's coming from a physician, it really makes a difference," says Fejt.


Dr. Klein agrees. "Seeing something in writing on a prescription pad by the pediatrician that just really makes an impact."

The idea is to teach a basic survival skill. If babies can learn to flip onto their backs and cry or yell for yelp, that could provide precious seconds for a rescue. Without being taught these skills, they typically sink to the bottom and wait for help.

For more information about the Water S.M.A.R.T. Babies program click here.

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