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Olympic skier Bode Miller and his wife, Morgan Beck, a former UC Berkeley volleyball player, are mourning the death of their 19-month-old daughter Emeline Grier after the little girl fell into a neighbor’s pool during a party over the weekend and drowned.
“We are beyond devastated,” the gold medalist captioned a photo he posted on Instagram Monday. “Our baby girl, Emmy, passed away yesterday. Never in a million years did we think we would experience a pain like this.”
Sadly, the pain Miller and Beck are suffering is all too common. In the United States, drownings are the leading cause of injury death for children ages 1 to 14, and three children die every day as a result of drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In California, an average of 51 children die each year, reports the California Department of Developmental Services.
Moreover, for every child who dies from drowning, another five young victims are sent to emergency rooms, the CDC added. More than 50 percent of all people admitted to emergency rooms for near-drowning accidents need to be hospitalized for further care, including for brain damage that can result in long-term disabilities, ranging from memory problems or learning disabilities to permanent loss of basic functions. The California Department of Developmental Services currently provides services to 748 survivors of near-drowning accidents who will require lifelong support for their disabilities.
“When most of us are enjoying time at the pool or beach, injuries aren’t the first thing on our minds,” California Governor Jerry Brown said in a letter issued in May. “I urge all Californians to enjoy the summer fun, but to follow important drowning prevention practices to protect themselves and their community.”
Emeline Grier is the second child of Miller, 40, and Beck, 31, a model and a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic beach volleyball team. The couple married in 2012 and are expecting another child in October. Miller has two other children from two prior relationships.
Emeline died at an Orange County hospital Sunday, the day after paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive her after she fell into a swimming pool, the Associated Press reported. Paramedics were called to a home in the upscale enclave of Coto de Caza just before 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Capt. Tony Bommarito of the Orange County Fire Authority told the Associated Press that paramedics couldn’t feel a pulse as they rushed her to the hospital.
Emeline’s death is currently under investigation, though Orange County Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Carrie Brown told the media that the case isn’t being treated as a criminal matter. “We’re pretty sure it was an accident,” she said.
According to statistics provided by the nonprofit Stop Drowning Now, 70 percent of preschoolers who drown were in the care of one or both parents and 75 percent were out of sight for fewer than five minutes. Most preschoolers who drown do so in their family’s home pool, while about a third drown in the homes of friends, neighbors and relatives.
“Drowning happens silently and within minutes,” Nadina Riggsbee, a Benicia resident and president and founder of the Drowning Prevention Foundation, wrote in an op-ed for the Bay Area News Group in January.
In 1978, Riggsbee’s 2-year-old daughter Samira died and her 14-month-old son J.J. suffered permanent disabilities when they briefly slipped out sight of their teenaged babysitter and fell into their backyard pool.
Riggsbee’s organization has long advocated for pool safety measures, such as four-sided fencing, and pool and door alarms. “One thing the injury prevention field knows all too well is that supervision necessarily fails — just because we are human,” Riggsbee wrote.
More recently, her organization pushed for SB 442, a law that took effect Jan. 1 and requires two safety barriers, instead of one, on pools in new homes or homes being sold, or in residential pools being updated. “It’s the toughest standard in the nation,” Riggsbee wrote.
Safety tips for kids and pools
In addition to having pools surrounded on all four sides by fencing (and measures required in California by SB442), here’s a summary of other water safety tips recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
— Supervise children when in or around the water. Designate a responsible adult to watch young children while in the bath and all children swimming or playing in or around water. Supervisors of preschool children should provide “touch supervision” — being close enough to reach the child at all times.
— Teach children to swim. Formal swimming lessons can protect young children from drowning. However, even when children have had formal swimming lessons, they still need constant, careful supervision when in or around bodies of water.
— Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Using CPR can save someone’s life in the time it takes for paramedics to arrive.
— Don’t use air-filled or foam toys as safety devices. “Water wings,” “noodles” or inner tubes are no substitute for life jackets in keeping young swimmers safe.
— Don’t drink alcohol while supervising children in or near water.
— Pool fences should be four-sided and stand at least 4 feet high. Use self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward with latches that are out of reach of children. The CDC also recommends other barriers, including alarms and automatic door locks.
— After using the pool, immediately clear the water and deck of floats, balls and toys so children aren’t tempted to enter the area unsupervised.
Drowning of Bode Miller’s toddler daughter highlights pool dangers for kids