Nat­u­ral State dan­gers

State’s wa­ter­ways of­fer great ex­pe­ri­ences, risks

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

Spring and sum­mer in North­west Ar­kan­sas draw peo­ple out of their homes like fire­flies into the warm evenings to take full ad­van­tage of liv­ing in our beloved Nat­u­ral State.

For thou­sands ev­ery week­end, and smaller crowds dur­ing the work week, warm tem­per­a­tures mean it’s time to take a re­fresh­ing dip at Beaver Lake, or the Buf­falo, Mul­berry, Kings, White or other rivers.

It’s also a sea­son of sad­ness, be­cause with­out fail, ev­ery spring and sum­mer ush­ers in a new col­lec­tion of fran­tic calls for help, re­ports of swim­mers who seemed fine only mo­ments be­fore but who can’t be found. Or of the teen who didn’t resur­face after jump­ing from a bluff. Or the adult who set out swim­ming for a dis­tant boat, only to strug­gle halfway there be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing.

The waters that of­fer a wide ar­ray of recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties also carry a con­stant threat that should never be un­der­es­ti­mated. In­deed, the high po­ten­tial for fun on the ar­eas lakes, rivers and stream is a de­cep­tive veil that hides lin­ger­ing dan­gers.

On Sun­day, a 10-year-old girl drowned while swim­ming in John­son County as her fam­ily en­joyed a week­end out­ing at the Mul­berry River, ac­cord­ing to the John­son County Sher­iff’s Of­fice.

Sep­a­rately, Kristi Marie Wylie, 31, of Rogers died Sun­day, two days after she jumped into War Ea­gle Creek in an un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt to save her 13-yearold daugh­ter, Maya Marie Martinez. The girl was swim­ming with an­other teen when she went un­der. Her mom and a fam­ily friend went into the wa­ter to at­tempt a res­cue of the girl, who did not swim well, ac­cord­ing to a Ben­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice spokesman. Wylie was pulled from the creek but later died at an area hospi­tal.

Last month, 18-year-old Erik San­ti­ago-An­tanio of Fort Smith drowned in the Ar­kan­sas River as he at­tempted to res­cue three chil­dren who be­gan strug­gling in the river’s cur­rent. He saved two of them. The third was res­cued by a fish­er­man, but San­ti­ago-Anatanio dis­ap­peared un­der the wa­ter’s sur­face and didn’t come up again.

Also in June, 22-year-old An­thony Scarpati of Cen­ter­ton swam out to a buoy at Twin Points Swim­ming Beach at Ski­a­took Lake in Ok­la­homa. As he swam back, he went un­der the sur­face. His body was found about an hour later 20 yards from shore.

Such hor­ri­ble losses, seem­ing even more tragic be­cause they hap­pened in the midst of care­free ac­tiv­i­ties, the goal be­ing only a good time with fam­ily and friends.

There’s a risk in­volved in us­ing re­cent tragedies as a launch pad for dis­cussing the dan­gers of swim­ming, as Amer­i­can an ac­tiv­ity as In­de­pen­dence Day. Some may mis­con­strue any com­ments as crit­i­cal of ei­ther those who died or those who wit­nessed the drown­ings. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from our minds. These are ac­ci­dents. They hap­pened to peo­ple who set out for a fun time at the lake, or at the river. No­body ever goes to a fa­vorite swim­ming hole be­liev­ing such a hor­ri­ble event is likely. In­deed, who would go if they did?

But with such tragedies fresh in the minds of the liv­ing, let us not also miss the op­por­tu­nity to con­sider fu­ture lives that may be saved.

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion, drown­ing is the sec­ond lead­ing cause of un­in­ten­tional in­jury death for chil­dren ages 1 to 14 years, and the fifth lead­ing cause for peo­ple of all ages. The na­tion av­er­aged 3,536 fa­tal, un­in­ten­tional drown­ings an­nu­ally be­tween 2005 and 2014. That’s about 10 a day.

Ac­ci­dents will al­ways hap­pen. There is no method or strat­egy that can en­tirely pro­tect against them. But aware­ness of fac­tors that have been demon­strated to in­crease the chances of drown­ing can help re­duce them.

What are those fac­tors that in­crease the risk of drown­ing? Again, from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion:

• A lack of swim­ming abil­ity — Peo­ple will spend small for­tunes on golf or ten­nis lessons, but ig­nore the life­long ben­e­fit that can be found in swim­ming lessons. For­mal lessons by a trained pro­fes­sional can make a huge dif­fer­ence. Peo­ple of­ten over­es­ti­mate their ca­pac­ity for strong swim­ming then panic when the un­ex­pected hap­pens.

• A lack of close su­per­vi­sion — Drown­ing oc­curs quickly and qui­etly, so su­per­vi­sion should come from an adult not in­volved in any other dis­tract­ing ac­tiv­ity, whether it’s grilling or read­ing or check­ing so­cial me­dia. Yes, per­haps that spoils the fun a bit, but if safety is the goal, it’s a rea­son­able trade off.

• Fail­ure to wear life jack­ets — Life jack­ets can save swim­mers who get tired, who suf­fer seizures or cramps or who are in­volved in an ac­ci­dent that dis­ables them. Coast Guard-ap­proved life jack­ets (not air mat­tresses or float­ing toys) are de­signed to keep peo­ple face up, heads out of the wa­ter, even when they’re un­con­scious.

• Al­co­hol use — Con­sump­tion of al­co­hol is in­volved in up to 70 per­cent of deaths as­so­ci­ated with wa­ter recre­ation.

How can peo­ple pre­vent drown­ings or be ready to re­spond if one hap­pens?

• Learn CPR. Paramedics take sev­eral min­utes to re­spond even in the best of sit­u­a­tions. For a drown­ing vic­tim, min­utes can mean death or se­ri­ous brain dam­age. CPR is no guar­an­tee, but can save lives and re­duce the long-term im­pact of a near-drown­ing.

• Some will dis­miss this rec­om­men­da­tion quickly, but is al­co­hol con­sump­tion worth some­one’s life? When swim­ming, stay sober.

• Use a buddy sys­tem, pair­ing up swim­mers to keep an eye on one an­other.

• Be aware of and avoid drop-offs and hid­den ob­sta­cles in nat­u­ral wa­ter sites. Al­ways en­ter wa­ter feet first. Swim­ming in a nat­u­ral body of wa­ter is far dif­fer­ent from swim­ming in a pool.

• Know your lim­its and re­spect them. Don’t start swim­ming for a dis­tant boat or rock that may be be­yond your abil­i­ties. Wear a life jacket.

Nat­u­rally, no­body sets out for a day of fun at the lake or creek be­liev­ing a tragedy is go­ing to hap­pen. We can’t sit around fret­ting about such dan­gers or let them keep us from en­joy­ing the nat­u­ral world around us. But wis­dom is found in pre­pared­ness.

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