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Doctor’s Tips on Pool Safety

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Of all the tragic endings Dr. Richard Midthun has witnessed in the emergency room, none has been as gut-wrenching and senseless as a drowned child.

Midthun was on duty at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in June when 4-year-old Daniel Veres was pronounced dead after falling into a pool during a birthday party at the Malibu home of rock musician Tommy Lee.

This year six children younger than 4 have drowned in swimming pools across Ventura County, compared to just one in all of 2000. And Midthun said he’s seen enough.

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Flanked by health and fire officials from Ventura and Los Angeles counties at a news conference Friday, Midthun reminded parents that the silent killer this Labor Day weekend could be the cool blue waters of the backyard pool.

“There is no substitute for keeping your eyes on your toddler,” Midthun said.

“Parents don’t believe this can happen, but toddlers have no judgment. They are curious.”

Just last month, 14-month-old Madeleine Martin fell into the swimming pool at her Thousand Oaks home and drowned.

“This is not a like when a child contracts an infection and dies,” hospital spokeswoman Kris Carraway-Bowman said. “This is a preventable death.”

Drowning remains the leading cause of death in California for children younger than 2. Statewide, 71 children between the ages of 1 and 4 drowned in 1999, the latest year for which statistics are available, according to Lea Brooks of the California Department of Health Services.

Those numbers could drop dramatically if parents and guardians of toddlers followed some simple rules, said Barry Fisher of Ventura County Emergency Medical Services.

The most obvious rule, and the one that people most often overlook, Fisher said, is to never leave a child unattended near a swimming pool. At parties, assign an adult to watch the children and consider hiring lifeguards for large functions.

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Make sure pools are surrounded by either a 5-foot-high fence with a lockable gate or a pool cover. And if there is a need to call 911, don’t do it from a cellular phone, Fisher said.

Those calls are routed through the California Highway Patrol and could cause delays in getting an emergency team to your home.

“Drownings happen quickly and silently,” Fisher said. “If your child is missing, always look for them in the pool first.”

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