Expert: Parents need to be more aware of signs of drowning

BALTIMORE - Too many parents are finding out the hard way.

"I feel, 100 percent of our population almost, if asked what do you think the signs of drowning are, if they've never lost a child to that, they have no idea," said Debbie Freed, who lost her son to drowning eight years ago.

"That was the worst day of our lives. We received a phone call and they said Connor was found floating beneath an empty lifeguard chair in 5 feet of water," she said.

It happened at a community pool. It happened in an instant.

"Almost everybody you ask, because of the movies, think they're yelling out for help, kicking and splashing and yelling. And it's the complete opposite. It's silent. It happens fast," Freed said.

We see it on the big screen time and again: drowning scenes where victims are kicking, splashing, and yelling. And that's the problem.

"They're all expecting that they'll hear it. If the kids is in the backyard pool or even in the bath tub, they're expecting that they are going to hear it. That's not what happens," said Bill Kirkner, Aquatics Director for JCC of Greater Baltimore.

Kirkner helped write the lifeguard training manual and has been teaching life saving techniques for years.

"When the movies have the person that's making all sorts of motion and everything else, that is not really what it's like. If a person can make that sort of noise and everything else, they might be in trouble, but they're still okay as far as we're concerned," he said.

In reality, it's silent.

"A parent can be right next to their child in the water, not realizing that they are actually drowning," Freed said.

Instead, Kirkner says, typically the head tilts back closing off the throat. The arms go straight out and the body goes into a vertical position.

"They're not able to do anything other than gasping for air. They're also not able to control their movements to wave for help or try to attract attention because their body is sort of doing that natural instinctive thing to push themselves down to get themselves out of the water," said Dr. Morgen Bernius with MedStar Franklin Square Hospital.

It happens in seconds. Dr. Bernius says for adults, you might see that instinctive drowning struggle for less than a minute before they go under,for children it typically happens in 20 seconds or less.

"It's tragic. It's preventable. My heart breaks every time I hear of another child drowning. Of course, I reflect back and think of Connor immediately and my heart breaks for the family because I know what they are going through," Freed said.