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Cook Children's using head-turning display to raise awareness about child drownings

The Fort Worth hospital created a display to represent child drowning victims at swimming pools and bathtubs.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Every year hospital workers at Cook Children's Medical Center create an awareness campaign about swimming safety.

But this year is different.

Now, there is a head-turning display outside the hospital that gets your attention. It's designed to be a reality check for any and everyone who plans to be around a swimming pool with children present.

The marketing and communications department at Cook Children's put up a clothesline display that features children's swimsuits and the traditional rubber duckies parents buy their kids for the bathtub. The goal of this display is to sound the alarm about swimming safety, especially since the number of drownings has gone up this year even before summer officially starts.

The 15 swimsuits hanging on a clothesline are the same size swimsuits of local children involved in drowning incidents. The yellow rubber duckies represent the kids involved in bathtub drowning incidents.

The display is a first for the hospital because they've seen and heard enough.

Wini King serves as the vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Cook Children's Medical Center and the chief of communications. The last thing she and her team wanted was to create the same old awareness message about the importance of water safety.

They brainstormed about what they could do to get more people to think about their responsibility when it comes to little ones at the swimming pool or in the bathtub at home.

"Because when you look at the bathing suits, those are bathing suits you were looking at in the retail store to put on your kid for swimming. That's something you can relate to. And the rubber ducky, of course, who doesn't have a rubber ducky in the bathtub," said King. "So, it's just trying to be impactful."

In 2017, drowning patient data from Cook Children’s Medical Center showed one fatal out of nine drowning incidents. So far in 2022, there are three deadly drownings out of 29. The increase is just one more reason the folks at Cook Children's Medical Center hope the clothesline display will be impactful. 

"Impactful, was the word everybody wants to use. What can we do to be impactful? We've been doing this campaign since 2016. So, after year after year after year, it tends to be repetitive, and we wonder if people are paying attention anymore,” said King. “And so, you must do something that's going to give shock and awe and make people think, Oh, my goodness, this could be my child.”

Too often, the drowning incidents and the aftermath spill over into an experience no emergency room worker wants. Hospital workers understand drowning incidents are accidents, but all of them are preventable in their opinion. Although not all drownings are fatal, when they are, it even impacts emergency room workers trained to save lives.

"Unfortunately, if that child has died as a result of the drowning, you don't want to hear the wails, the screams, the crying from the parents," said King.

King and her team put up the clothesline display around Memorial Day weekend when swimming pools typically open. Since that time, the number of incidents has increased to 29 child drowning incidents.

Sadly, four of those have been drowning deaths. The clothesline is designed to be a reality check for parents who get distracted at the swimming pool.

"Do not let your guard down. And our campaign is ‘life guard your child.’ Never take your eyes off," said King. "Not on their phone, not looking at TV, not doing anything other than paying close attention to those children in the pool."

Cook Children's Medical Center has a partnership with the Fort Worth YMCA to work together on preventing swimming deaths. Jacquelyn Tokar serves as the YMCA vice president of compliance. They also hope their campaign results in fewer drowning incidents.

"We have these water watcher tags," said Tokar.

She and her team at the YMCA are sounding the alarm, too, about swimming safety, asking adults, parents and anyone on swimming safety duty to wear a wristband water watcher tag reminder.

"Or sometimes they'll be on a lanyard and they're annoying on purpose. The point is, it's to remind you that you have a job,” Tokar said.

As you can see from the clothesline, some of the drownings involve kids in the smallest of swimsuits. And take it from Tokar, a lifeguard herself, it only takes seconds for something to go wrong.

"It makes me sick to my stomach. It is 100% preventable. This isn't. It's preventable," said Tokar. "It's not a massive accident that you know, like a car accident that happened. And we can't control the situation. We can control this by, you know, swimming at a lifeguard ad pool by watching our children around the water, by learning CPR so that when something happens, we can respond immediately."

Tokar also encourages families to take advantage of YMCA swim lessons for children. According to Tokar, a child is less likely to die from drowning if that child has had at least one swim lesson.

Already this year, Tokar has had to come to the rescue of a child who ran towards the water during a family visit to the same pool.

Tokar said, "A 2-year-old came in with another family and went straight to the water, jumped in, and I ran across the pool and pulled her out."

Both the hospital and YMCA strongly recommend using only Coast Guard-approved lifejackets and swim vests for children.

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