Every day, 10 people in the United States drown. It only takes a few moments for a person in distress to breathe in water that can keep them from regaining the ability to breath properly.
Three minutes: it is a commercial break, a bathroom stop or flipping your burgers on the grill - and that fast-ticking timeframe is all it takes for someone to lose consciousness underwater. Lake Charles Memorial-LSU Family Medicine resident, Dr. Jason Hagen says, "You're missing out on oxygen to the heart and the brain and the brain can only miss out on oxygen for three to six minutes before you start seeing some damage."
Dr. Hagen says that damage can be to brain cells, the lungs and irregular heart rhythms that eventually stop the heart from beating. "Your body fights it for a little while, but after a while it can't. The reflexes that protect us from it are no longer intact," he said.
That is why certified lifeguard and Memorial staffer, Rev. David Dewitt, says early recognition of a struggling swimmer is critical for survival and oftentimes that person is not making much noise. "That's because they're not actually able to yell for help, because they are working so hard to stay above water," he said.
When you spot the person needing help, Dewitt says unless you are a certified lifeguard, you need to follow the "throw, don't go" rule. "If you happen to go in thinking you're going to rescue this person, it's very easy for a person who is panicked to grab you around the neck and take you down with them and it's quite possible to have a double drowning," said Dewitt.
If you have a well-stocked pool area, you might have tools on hands like expanding hooks or floats to help with rescues. "If you have a floatation ring, you are gonna want to go just to the side of the person, just a little past their head," said Dewitt.
Other items, like limbs, crab nets, even certain clothing could be used to help pull a nearby swimmer to safety. "You can look around the yard where you might be. One of the practical things is a belt someone may be wearing," said Dewitt.
An easy and cheap investment in pool safety is to have a whistle nearby for someone to blow in any situation of distress. "They'll hear that whistle over on the patio where they may be barbecuing or they may be just around the corner and they can come for help," said Dewitt.
The more safety features, the better - and knowing how to use them before an emergency arises is something that could truly save a life.
The outcome of drowning patients is much more dependent on their initial care and rescue CPR than efforts at a hospital.