By Nicole Hughes
We were never supposed to leave our beach vacation early to plan a funeral for our 3-year-old son. And, yet, within the course of one week, we had driven to the beach, returned without him, and held his funeral.
Do you know that drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages 1-4 and the second leading cause in ages 1-14? Do you know that 69% of children who drown are not expected to be swimming, yet they are found in water? Do you know that a child can drown in less than one minute?
Unfortunately, I know these facts all too well. On June 10, 2018, my three year old son, Levi, drowned while on vacation in Fort Morgan, AL.
There is a misconception that drowning only happens when you are swimming. But, drowning also happens when you are 200 feet away from a pool, upstairs, eating Cheetos, wearing your neon yellow crab-hunting shirt, when you leave your mom’s side, even though you are usually Velcro-ed to her. Drowning isn’t splashing and yelling. It is silent, and it takes SECONDS.
I have always taken water safety seriously. In each of the pictures I have of my son’s final day, he is wearing a life jacket. Flying a kite with his dad? Life jacket. Eating M&M’s in a beach chair? Life jacket.
How could I have known that every parent’s worst nightmare would be my reality? It happened so quickly. I don’t know how Levi got away from us as we were cleaning up from dinner, or what lured him to go outside alone. I was the one who found him, face down, in the deep end.
Just moments before this horrific discovery, I split a brownie with him. I still had the other half of the brownie in my mouth when I jumped into the pool to grab my son. Mere moments, seconds.
We had six physicians on our trip, including my own husband. If Levi could have been saved by desperation, skill, and love, he would still be here. Yet, how did I not fully realize just how quickly a child can drown? They initiated CPR immediately, even intubated him before the ambulance arrived. But Levi could not be saved, even with this immediate response.
In the days after we lost Levi, when we were forced to stumble forward without our baby boy, I started researching. I am (was?) on my third journey of parenting a child in the 1-4 age group. Why did I not know that drowning is the leading cause of death? Of course, I knew drowning was a potential danger. We utilized life jackets, swim lessons, supervision while swimming. But why did I not know about the dangers of drowning during NON-SWIMMING times? How did I not know it took less than one minute?
Why is my mom-brain filled with internal debates about screen time, organic fruit, and sunscreen free of oxybenzone? I still cut my 9-year-old’s grapes. I buy DHA milk. I worry that the hours of YouTube my kids watch will prevent them from being functioning adults one day. These are the topics that are pushed in my direction, the worries that I have grasped onto as I navigate parenting. Well, the unfortunate irony here is that I had taken the iPhone away from my son not too long before he slipped away from us. I sure wish I had cared a little less about screen time that night.
The more I researched, the angrier I became. Oh, and I had to search. Why are discussions about drowning almost an afterthought? Background noise? This is a LEADING cause of death, and it is 100% PREVENTABLE. Yes, there are news stories, but we have become numb to these “don’t forget to watch your kids while swimming” factual articles that are regurgitated each year and the faded “no lifeguard on duty” signs stuck on a wall by a pool.
The harsh reality is that Levi’s death rests on me. These are the hardest words I will ever have to admit, but the truth is that I failed my son, failed to keep him safe. Yes, this accident happened in moments. But, the fact that I have to live with for the rest of my life is that losing Levi was preventable. I am not trying to push blame off of my shoulders. But, I sure wish I had known these statistics before June 10.
For the last month, I have fueled my grief and anger into action. Based on the research on drowning, I have created a non-profit called Levi’s Legacy. My mission is to eradicate drowning completely. You can read more about my mission (and about designated supervision) at www.levislegacy.com.
So, here I am, a grieving mother facing a future I would never have imagined. Lying in bed and sobbing will not bring him back (oh, but if it would). I don’t want this role of water-safety advocate. I want 30 seconds back on June 10. But I am determined to share these facts I so desperately wish I had known. Levi’s message has already spread, but now, it’s time to take the next step, and it is a big one.
American Academy of Pediatrics, I am asking for your help. We need you. I say this as someone who is married to a physician and who respects my own pediatrician very much. But, thousands of people have reached out to me over the last month sharing the same comment each time: “I had no idea. Why didn’t I know any of this about drowning?”
I am well aware how much a pediatrician has to cover during a well-child visit: build a relationship, answer questions, prepare for milestones, look into the ears of a squirming child. Pediatricians have thousands of topics they must be knowledgeable of and share with parents. Therefore, American Academy of Pediatrics, you play a major role in setting priorities and equipping your pediatricians with the resources they need in order to inform parents and help eliminate this preventable tragedy. Parents of young children, especially in the age range of 1-4, should be given a handout that clearly explains the statistics on drowning. On the questionnaire, when I fill out it if my child can hold a crayon, hop on one foot, or sleep through the night, there needs to be a section on water safety. American Academy of Pediatrics, you have the platform and power to reach millions. Please, please join this cause.
The AAP has a website for parents (http://www.healthychildren.org/); on July 11, 2018, in the middle of summer, do you know how many times “drowning” was displayed on the homepage? Zero. When I searched “drowning,” I found a list of 17 total items, with articles from 2017 and 2014 being at the top. These articles include information that is so dull that nobody will read it (assuming anyone searches). They include information on how to tell if your child is drowning, such as: “eyes closed / not using legs/ appearing to be climbing an invisible ladder.” Not only is this a waste of words (is a parent seriously going to go through this mental checklist before saving a child?), but it just reinforces to people the incorrect assumption that drowning means splashing and yelling.
A 3-year-old can drown in less than one minute: silently and without a struggle. The articles also fail to mention how often (the majority of times) drowning happens when not swimming. I am like any other mom: winging it, doing my best, and depending on parenting guidance from pediatricians and parenting articles. How else am I supposed to know what I am doing? Drowning needs to be addressed with as much concern as newborns sleeping on their backs to sleep, vaccinations, and car seat safety. Drowning is just as deadly and just as preventable. Drowning is a leading cause of death in children, and it needs to be treated as such. Can we please start talking about it?
I want to make it clear that hundreds of pediatricians and other medical professionals have reached out to me about Levi’s story. I am encouraged, humbled, and touched by how many of these influential people are already advocating for water safety and want to continue to be part of this solution. Thank you. I hope to get the same response from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
I used to be the parent who would read a story like this one and immediately start scanning, looking for a loophole, desperate for the detail that would exempt me from this particular nightmare ever being mine. But, it turns out, tragedy does not play fair. My son is gone. And, yet, we are choosing to live a purposeful life in the midst of this ultimate despair.
We have two daughters, Levi’s older sisters, whom he adored, and we cannot let them lose us, too. This pain is unimaginable, but every second is a CHOICE. I am choosing to breathe, choosing to advocate. The pain and darkness threaten to suffocate. But when I choose to turn on the light, I see goodness. People are hearing Levi’s message, questioning why they didn’t know the truth about drowning, taking action.
We have a chance to change the future, to save sons and daughters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Trust me, I never imagined myself in the role of water-safety advocate until I was thrust into it by my grief. Drowning is a leading cause of death and is 100% preventable. We can do better. We can fix this for our children.
For more information on children and heat also check here: healthychildren.org
Picture this scenario: It’s a hot, sunny summer day. You are taking a nice, relaxing stroll outside with your baby in a stroller. The sun feels hot on your skin so you correctly deduce (she doesn’t yet speak, so she can’t tell you) that your infant is feeling the heat as well. You decide to cover the stroller with a blanket to produce instant shade (which will also protect her from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays) but in the process, says Wendy Wisner, create a new and dangerous problem:
You see, by placing a blanket – even a light one, like a muslin cloth – over the stroller, you are actually locking heat in, rather than keeping it out. And it turns out that the temperature that the inside of your baby’s stroller could rise to is potentially very dangerous – even deadly.
Infants and young children are more vulnerable to the effects of heat than older kids and adults. Their immature body systems don’t regulate their internal temperature particularly well and they may not be able to communicate how they are feeling. As a result, infants and young children are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses such as dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Since infants haven’t yet developed the ability to sweat and effectively regulate their body temperature, parents need to be on the lookout for subtler signs like excess sleepiness, malaise, irritability, and excessive thirst. Looking pale while feeling hot, rapid breathing, vomiting, and not producing urine for several hours are very concerning signs suggesting excessive exposure to heat.
There are a number of precautions parents can take on those hot summer days to protect the stroller’s precious cargo:
— Use a different sun shield: Instead of a blanket, use a large canopy or mesh sun shield designed for strollers. This will produce shade while ensuring adequate airflow.
— Dress lightly: One layer of loose-fitting, light-colored, and lightweight clothing should do.
— Stay hydrated: Infants should feed from the breast or bottle more frequently; toddlers should be offered water frequently. On hot days, don’t wait for children to ask for something to drink.
— Avoid peak heat hours: The hottest daylight hours in temperate climates are typically between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Stay in the shade during those hours and try to avoid being outdoors altogether on especially hot days or during heat waves. Instead, find a cool space indoors and camp out there.
— Check on your baby often: Make sure they are being adequately shaded, kept cool, and acting happy in their stroller.
Car seat carriers also present similar heat risks as strollers, so be sure that remains a cool spot on a hot day.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more tips to protect children from extreme heat here.
Your child's sports injury can be treated just as your injury was. Or, can it? Your pediatrician knows that a child's body is still developing, responding differently to acute and overuse injuries from organized sports, gym class, and more. As such, he or she can help your child avoid injury and in the event of sprain, strain, laceration, dislocation, or head injury, will help your youngster recover and stay healthy.
Kids sports injuries
They're very common, says the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. Annually, 3.5 million American children under the age of 14 suffer significant sports injuries. Some injuries are related to poor conditioning. Others occur because of inadequate instruction or proper protective gear such as padding, eye wear, sneakers, dance shoes, skates, and cleats.
In addition, diligent supervision on the part of parents, coaches, teachers, and other well-informed adults is critical to safe play. Well-maintained game fields and indoor surfaces avoid foot, ankle, and knee injuries.
Finally, KidsHealth reports that Pre-participation Physicals review medical histories and spot possible weaknesses in children's physiology and anatomy. Most school and organized sports teams require these check-ups either with the school physician or the family pediatrician before the sports season commences.
Treating sports injuries
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that proper assessment and prompt treatment of kids' sports injuries prevent long-term problems, including pain and proper growth of areas of the body such as the long bones. Traditionally, coaches and parents have used the RICE protocol to stabilize and injury, relieve pain, and begin the healing process. It still works exceptionally well. RICE stands for:
- Ice to the affected area
- Compression with an elastic bandage
- Elevation of the affected limb/injured area above heart level
Then, your pediatrician and other health care providers can devise a specific treatment plan to include physical therapy, strengthening exercises, over the counter analgesics, braces, and casts as needed. As a parent, you know your child well. So be sure to fully participate in your youngster's care plan.
Be safe, be well
Each child responds differently to athletic training depending on his or her gender, size, age, physical conditioning, underlying health issue,s and natural ability. You and your pediatrician can partner together in encouraging a safe sports season for your child. That's a win-win situation.
It’s easy for parents to be able to pinpoint when there is something physically wrong with their child. They may have a fever, body aches, or abdominal pain. When these symptoms arise parents often know to seek care from their pediatrician. Mental health issues, on the other hand, are just as important to treat as physical complaints; however, these symptoms and problems aren’t always as clear-cut.
Good mental health allows children to feel confident, think properly and develop the proper skills needed for social, personal, and even professional success throughout their lifetime. A child’s environment can greatly impact their emotional and mental states, and it’s important that parents are in tuned with their children, their emotions and what’s going on for them to spot problems right away so that they can seek proper care.
Here are some ways to foster healthy mental well-being in your child:
- Provide your child with unconditional love
- Foster a safe, nurturing environment
- Help build their self-esteem and confidence
- Encourage their passions and dreams
- Provide guidance and discipline when necessary
Along with these simple tips it’s also important to ensure that your child is:
- Getting regular exercise
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Getting adequate sleep
Modeling Good Mental Health
Your child mirrors everything you do so by giving them a positive role model your child can mirror good behaviors that foster good mental health. When you take care of yourself your child also learns the importance in self-care. When you find joy in your life your child will also make a priority out of finding things that bring them joy.
Talk to a Pediatrician
We know that it isn’t always easy to determine what behaviors are normal and which ones warrant a deeper look. This is where your children’s doctor can provide you with the information you need. A pediatrician can answer questions about everything from healthy social and emotional skills to behaviors that could be problematic.
It’s also important that parents do not ignore their own mental well-being. After all, mentally healthy parents also provide better care and a positive, happy environment for their children to thrive. If you are having trouble with your own mental well-being it’s okay to talk to your child’s pediatrician about your issues.
If you have questions about your child’s mental health and wellness don’t hesitate to sit down and discuss your questions or concerns with a pediatrician who will be able to guide you along the way to make sure that you are providing your child with everything they need for optimal mental and emotional well-being.
What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or autism, is a developmental disability that can cause significant communication, communication, and behavioral challenges. The thinking, learning, and problem-solving abilities of individuals with autism can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some individuals with autism need only a bit of help in their daily lives; others need more. While there's no cure for autism, early treatment can make a big difference in the lives of many children.
ASD is the fastest growing serious, developmental disability, affecting an estimated one out of 59 kids in America. Autism begins in early childhood and eventually causes problems functioning in society — at work, in school, and socially, for example. Often kids show symptoms of autism within the first year. Autism impacts how people perceive and socialize with others, causing problems in social interaction and communication.
Autism can look different in different people. Kids with autism have a hard time interacting with others. Social skills difficulties are some of the most common signs. A child with ASD might want to have close relationships but not know how. Most have some problems with communication. Kids with ASD also act in ways that seem unusual. Examples of this can include repetitive behaviors like jumping, hand-flapping, constant moving, fixations on certain objects, fussy eating habits, impulsiveness, and aggressive behavior.
The exact cause of ASD is not known, but it's believed that genetic and environmental factors are involved. Research shows that ASD tends to run in families. Changes in certain genes increase the risk that a child with develop autism. Research also shows that certain environmental influences may increase autism risk in people who are genetically predisposed to the disorder. Researchers are exploring whether certain factors such as medications, viral infections, or complications during pregnancy play a role in triggering ASD.
Treatment options may include nutritional therapy, physical therapy, behavior and communication therapies, educational therapies, family therapies, and medications. No medication can improve the core signs of ASD, but specific medications can help control symptoms. For example, antipsychotic drugs are sometimes used to treat severe behavioral problems; certain medications may be prescribed if your child is hyperactive; and antidepressants may be prescribed for anxiety.
Autism can impact your child's quality of life. If you think your child may have autism, find a pediatrician near you and schedule a consultation. Proper diagnosis and treatment of autism can help your child live a happier, more successful life. The earlier children with autism get help, the greater their chance of treatment success.
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