FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – The image of a child in distress, struggling in water is heart-wrenching. But for Cook Children’s Hospital, it’s the picture they want parents see on a new electronic billboard in Fort Worth.
The hospital wants to get parent’s attention and move them to action.
Since 2012, the number of children admitted to the hospital for drowning injuries has increased by 40 percent.
The child on the billboard appears to be going into the instinctive drowning response; reaching the point of having difficulty keeping his head above water.
There is a misconception that one would hear someone who’s drowning, but drowning is a silent killer.
“The body’s desire for air overrides anything else. Whether you want to scream and holler for help, your body is not going to let you,” explains Starrett Keele with the Fort Worth Fire Department.
Another misconception is that drowning only affects those who can’t swim. It’s a misconception mom Lori Cerami can dispute first-hand.
“We were the family that believed because our kids could swim… that this would never happen to us,” she says.
Her 13-year-old daughter Elise, lived on land, but was at home underwater.
“Watching her swim was like watching my own Olympics every day,” Cerami says of the talented teen.
She had been swimming since age 7 and could swim a mile in under 20 minutes. The elite athlete and bright student was also a friend to all.
“My son said that she was not love at first sight, she was friend at first sight,” Cerami explains proudly.
The Southlake mom had just dropped off her daughter at a routine early morning swim practice last June, when the phone rang.
“I was in the kitchen and they said ‘Mrs. Cerami, they found Elise at the bottom of the pool.’ I said, “Is she breathing? And they didn’t answer,” she recalls.
The medical examiner determined Elise died from an accidental drowning.
“It’s unexplainable as to why she let go of the kick board and sunk to the bottom of the pool.”
Coping with how they lost their child is a daily struggle.
“She was healthy, and the reason that’s so important to us is that there’s a misconception that this would happen to someone else and it’s not going to happen to our family because our swimmers not sick. But Elise wasn’t sick,” Cerami explains.
Through her foundation, Swim 4 Elise, Cerami hopes to be a wave of change. And as she nears the anniversary of her daughter’s final swim, Cerami is working with Cook Children’s Hospital to send an important message to families: Lifeguard Your Child.
“Elise would say, ‘Mom, you got this!,’ ” Cerami explains.
To kick off the campaign, injury prevention staff and the Fort Worth Fire Department spent time educating families about swim safety at the Sycamore Apartments, a Fort Worth complex that was the site of a 2016 drowning call. The focus is on encouraging parents to add multiple layers of protection around their kids in the water.
Along with enrolling their children in swim lessons, and learning chest-compression only CPR, they are calling on parents to become Water Watchers. To illustrate the point, the hospital is distributing some 25,000 wearable tags that serve as a visual cue to be a non-distracted watcher.
“While you’re wearing this you do not eat, drink, talk, look at your phone. All you’re doing is watching the kids in the pool and then you can pass off [the tag] to somebody else,” explains Trauma Injury Prevention Coordinator, Sharon Evans.
Most drownings happen in June and July. Many of them occur during parties, when dozens of people are around.
“Everybody assumes, everyone else will watch,” says Evans.
On the week of June 20, Cerami will be reading to the most vulnerable group — 1 to 4 year olds at various daycares.
“You should go in the pool only when there’s an adult watching,” she reads from the children’s book, “Clifford Takes a Swim.”
Though Cerami lost her child to drowning, she hopes Elise’s story will save others.
“She’d be enormously proud.”