Story by Chad Light
Photos by Kate Gardiner
Do you have a pool? Do your neighbors or family have pools? Do you live by a body of water? Do you have a child under the age of four? If you’re near a pool or body of water while you’re reading this, where is that child right now?
Chances are, you immediately knew the answer to that last question, or you think you did (or maybe your heart skipped a beat). Just last month, Olympic skier Bode Miller’s wife thought she knew, shortly before realizing that her 19-month old daughter Emeline wasn’t next to her at a neighbor’s house. Reports indicate that the little girl was missing for only a very short period of time before her absence was noticed. When it was apparent, her mother went straight for the pool, but it was too late. Emeline was found floating in the water, unresponsive. Even though CPR was started immediately, it was unsuccessful.
A very short period of time.
We live in Florida, surrounded by water on three sides, land of a thousand lakes, rivers, springs, and swimming pools. Water safety isn’t an option; it’s a matter of survival, especially for the youngest of residents — our children. The sad fact is that drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of four, and ultimately, every one is preventable if the right precautions are taken. Sure, standard prevention comes in the form of adults who closely monitor and supervise children when near water: fences around pools; alarms on gates and pools, and no child left around water unsupervised.
If all of those measures were failsafe, these heartbreaking reports of drowning deaths like Emeline Miller’s wouldn’t be regularly broadcast over the news and social media. Her death proves that it can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Toddlers are fast: escape artists to the nth degree. Turn your back, and in the blink of an eye, they’re gone. If there’s water nearby, the results can be tragic, unless the toddler has been trained to survive if they fall into the water and there’s no one around to immediately pull them out.
That’s where Infant Swim Resource (ISR) comes in. Simply put, ISR is a program consisting of survival swimming lessons for infants and young children. The program was developed in 1966 by Dr. Harvery Barnett and today has over 450 instructors who teach ISR Self-Rescue throughout the country. “Not One More Child Drowns” is the mission of each and every person dedicated to teaching this groundbreaking method.’
Considering that 4,000 children die each year from accidental drowning, ISR is obviously needed. For those in the area, seeking to add ISR to their prevention stagey, we contacted Laura Tillis, a local ISR instructor, to find out more about ISR in our area, and to dispel some myths surrounding the method.
“First I’d like to start by clearing up the myth that we just throw the babies into the pool. ISR has never done that, and I am unsure where that first originated from, but this is just not true.”
ISR instructional videos support this statement (available for viewing on YouTube and on the IRS website here). More importantly, they demonstrate the incredible results produced by the ISR program. It’s astounding when you see a 7-month old child completely submerged in water, rise to the top and calmly flip theirselves over on to their backs and float on the surface while keeping their mouth above water so that they can breathe safely. That doesn’t happen by introducing an infant to the water by blithely tossing them in. These skills are developed through a very deliberate process which is designed to produce as little stress as possible for the baby.
“Our first and most important step to having a child in the water is breath control, making sure the child is inhaling before we take them under and that they are not aspirating water. Until we have this, we do not proceed. Then we show the child how to grab onto and hold themselves at the wall.”
From this point on, Tillis says, each instructor may do things a little differently, but in the end, they all get the same result: a swim-flip over on back to float, catch breath, then flip back over to swim. Children that have gone through ISR will repeat this sequence until they can get to the steps, wall or shoreline.
“It’s a little different for babies from 6 months to a year,” Tillis adds. “Those children we teach to just flip over and float until someone can get them out of the water.”
Each lesson lasts only ten minutes, five days a week for six weeks: a time limit set to avoid stress, fear and chills. Children do cry at times, but if you think about it, babies cry over so many different things for so many different reasons. The thought that this scars them for life is a bit over the top when you start to listen to the parents whose children have received the ISR instruction. Many of them say it’s more stressful to the parents than the children…then they see the results. In one story broadcast on the Today Show, the father of a 7-month old boy who had just performed the swim-flip for the first time in front of him said, “Your first instinct is to go help but then they just roll over and it just blows your mind.”
And it works. Tillis says that she regularly has parents, whose children she’s taught, contact her with stories of their children falling into a pool and avoiding drowning because they did what they where taught to do: swim to the top and flip over to their back.
“I received an email from a mother of two, whose 10-month-old baby I taught to flip over and float,” Tillis recalls. “One night, her husband insisted she go out with some girlfriends while he watched the kids. The older child was in the bathtub, and while the father quickly ran to the bathroom to turn off the water in the tub, the sliding glass door was left open, and the baby crawled out and went right into the pool. When Dad came back out, his baby boy was floating on his back in the pool. Without ISR, this most certainly would have been a much worse outcome.”
There are more testimonials like this on the ISR website. More tragedies that were averted because parents took the extra precaution of making sure that, if the unthinkable happened, it wouldn’t mean certain death for their beloved child.
The fact of the matter is that Florida residents live in a world where there’s water at every turn. As much as we enjoy being on it and in it, the dangers to our little ones are very real. Even if you do everything right, there’s always the chance for something to be missed, and in the case of Emeline Miller, and countless other children who suffered her fate, the cost of that mistake is their lives. Why not do everything in your power as a parent to make sure that never happens? ISR can help you do that.
For more information on Infant Swim Resource and to find an instructor in your area, visit the Infant Swim Resource website here.