When school let out for the summer two years ago, Melanie and Michael Tittor of Paradise and their family prepared themselves for a full slate of pool time and sunshine.
Melanie had enrolled her daughters – Emma and Lana, then ages 5 and 3 – in swim lessons, which were to begin a few weeks later.
The older daughter was not thrilled.
“But you hear about people drowning,” Emma argued.
Her mother replied, “Sister, kids only drown when the parents aren’t paying attention.”
That very afternoon, the family learned that isn’t always the case.
Melanie, a kindergarten teacher at Paradise Elementary School, and a group of teacher friends and their spouses gathered for a Memorial Day barbecue complete with swimming.
While in the pool, Lana always wore a flotation device that extends across her chest and around the arms. When it came time to eat, she had removed the cumbersome device and left it floating in the shallow end of the pool.
When it was time to swim again, Melanie sent her to retrieve the floatie.
Lana was walking across the shallow end of the pool when she stepped too far. She fell into water over her head and didn’t come back up.
“It wasn’t one of those wild scenes of seeing her struggle,” Melanie said. “She didn’t make a sound.”
Melanie recalled coming back to the porch and moments later realizing Lana hadn’t come back.
A group of junior high boys in the pool saw Lana wading in the shallow end and didn’t think much of it at first.
Then, one of those boys, Martin Crawford, spotted the youngster lying at the bottom of the pool. Melanie estimates Lana was underwater no more than five minutes. By the time Martin reached her, she was already unconscious.
He swam down and picked her up. By then, Michael and other adults realized what happened, and they ran to the edge of the pool.
Michael plucked his daughter out and immediately, a Paradise ISD school nurse (Tammy Pewitt) and Ben, Martin’s father, began performing CPR.
By the time medics arrived, Lana was conscious and talking. She was flown by helicopter ambulance to Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth anyway.
“They didn’t know if she might’ve accidentally hit her head when she stepped off the step or how much water she had ingested,” Melanie said. “Because they did full-on chest compressions, she could’ve very well had a broken rib or punctured lung.”
Fortunately, she was fine. There was a little bit of water in her right lung so doctors kept Lana overnight so she could be monitored. But she was discharged less than 24 hours after she was brought in.
A follow-up visit to the pediatrician later in the week cleared her.
“Everything turned out OK,” Melanie said. “But it’s made me very conscious and diligent.”
These are traits she advocates and strives to spread.
Among her efforts is the desire to dispell the myth of drowning, a perception she once mistakenly held herself.
“It wasn’t one of those situations where we weren’t paying attention – we were all right there,” Melanie said. “I knew what she went to do. It wasn’t that I lost track of her or that she got back in without permission. She knows she has to have her floaties on.
“You think you’re paying attention, but it just happens so fast,” she continued. “It was minutes, literally minutes, that we were apart.”
Although she commends Martin and the other junior high boys for their quick reaction, she encourages others who find themselves in a similar situation to yell for help.
“None of the kids in the pool said anything. They just all started moving toward her,” Melanie recalled. “We’ve really tried to teach the kids if they even think someone’s struggling to yell to an adult. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
In addition, she pushes the importance of conquering the fear.
Although the girls weren’t to begin their lessons until the end of June, they were bumped up and back in the pool with instructors within a week of the accident.
Emma, who originally was hesitant, did very well on her own. Lana and Melanie enrolled in the Mom and Me class.
“We were the oldest ones in that class, but that was OK,” Melanie recalled. “We just wanted to get her in and let her splash around to help her get over her fear of getting back in. It wasn’t until the end of that summer before she would let go or trust a floatie to keep her from going under. She wouldn’t get her head wet at all, and she definitely struggled with going under. Unfortunately, she remembered all of what happened.”
Now, Lana doesn’t need the flotation device unless she’s swimming with a large group of people or in a pool she’s not comfortable with.
“She is fearful in that she knows she can’t just bail off into the deep end without somebody right there, and she won’t go in by herself,” Melanie said. “But she’s not scared to get in the water … I’m very thankful she’s not traumatized.”
Beyond defining circumstances that lead to drowning, calling for help and swim lessons, Melanie mostly pushes for CPR certifications.
Twelve adults were at the Memorial Day gathering. Six of them were CPR certified, including Melanie.
“Had I been put in a situation where I would’ve had to do CPR on my own kid, of course I could,” she said. “But I was very thankful that it wasn’t me because it was the most surreal moment. I’m so thankful they were there. I’m so glad they knew what to do. That helped saved her life.”
The fall after Lana’s accident, Melanie and the school nurses coordinated a training for Paradise ISD employees and the community, where more than 30 people became certified, including Lana’s dad.
Melanie anticipates the district will continue with the class this year, which previously cost around $20.
“It’s not much to pay to know what to do in a life-or-death situation,” she said. “Just take that precaution, and be proactive instead of reactive.”
Decatur Fire Marshal Deroy Bennett agrees. In 2007, his department established the Community Heart Savers, monthly CPR training programs.
His department offers the classes three times a month.
On the first Tuesday, and fourth Thursday, they offer a four-hour Heartsavers/AED certification class. Cost is $5 for those who live and work in Decatur or $25 for anyone else.
A class for healthcare providers and a Heartsaver/AED/First Aid class are typically offered on the third Saturday.
The healthcare providers class is for anyone with any type of medical certification (nurse’s aides, dental hygienists, etc.), while the latter training adds basic first aid techniques (dealing with lacerations, bug bites, bandaging, etc.)
Cost for the class, which is eight hours, is $25, which covers materials.
Bennett hopes the low prices will entice residents to enroll.
“Typically, the normal, average citizen will say, ‘Yes, I’d like to have that,’ but they’re not going to go out and pay $45 or $65 or $85 for that,” Bennett said. “However, they’ll do it for $5.”
Decatur firefighters who are certified by the American Heart Association teach the classes. Bennett said that when the program began, the department had four instructors. That number has grown to about a dozen.
Other courses, class dates and times are available. Certifications are valid for two years.
Classes range in size from seven or eight to large groups of more than 20, especially if a large group from a specific church or business registers together.
To register, call the fire department at 940-627-3199 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The ultimate goal is to get more trained people in the public to help save people in these instances,” Bennett said. “It could be me. It makes me feel safer knowing there might be somebody out there that would be trained to save me or my family.
“I find great satisfaction in my job – and always have – knowing that if I could make someone in my community safer in any way, whether that’s teaching them CPR or saving their property or them in the event of a fire.”
“You just can’t be too careful,” Tittor said.
COMMUNITY HEART SAVERS
The Decatur Fire Department offers CPR trainings three times a month – the first Tuesday, third Saturday and fourth Thursday.
Classes include Friends and Family CPR, Heartsaver CPR, Heartsaver CPR/AED, Heartsaver/AED/First Aid and BLS for Healthcare Providers.
To register or for information, call Decatur FD at 940-627-3199 or email email@example.com.
At the request of Kimberly Aaron, medical director of the emergency department at Cook Children’s Health Care system, the hospital system newsroom released a story Thursday following three drownings in one week.
The report contained several alarming statistics including:
- Texas has the highest incidence of swimming pool- and spa-related childhood drownings in the United States. All three children previously mentioned died following pool-related incidents.
- Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional deaths for children 1 to 4 years of age.
- In many drowning situations, an adult was just a few feet away from the pool and didn’t realize anything was wrong because he or she didn’t hear any sounds of distress, such as splashing or yelling.
“It’s unusual for us to have three cases in one week … and we still have many weeks of summer left,” Dr. Aaron said in the article. ” … We realize that it could happen to anyone. It happens very, very quickly. We’re not being judgmental. We feel so strongly about this and knowing how it impacts us we wanted to reach out and raise awareness to the community.”