The dangers of Shallow Water Blackout
IF you’re sitting by your backyard pool keeping an eye on the littlies, be just as vigilant for your older, more confident swimmers too.
A condition known as Shallow Water Blackout (SWB) has claimed lives, including the son of Tony and Judy Fisher from Parkes, whose 12-year-old son Nic passed away in 2001 under unexplainable circumstances at that time.
“He was a confident swimmer and water skier, but the competitive game of holding breath under water repeatedly – which we’d all been doing that day – is how he died. We were there, sitting by the pool,” Mrs Fisher told Dubbo Photo News.
Nic was swimming in chest height water at the time, playing the game of who could stay under the longest. Despite attempts to revive him there was nothing they could do.
“Brain death in Shallow Water Blackout typically takes twoand-a-half minutes. We just didn’t know,” Mrs Fisher said.
To learn the exact reason Nic had died, the Fishers and extended family and friends would have to wait 10 years until another boy who was a healthy, confident swimmer died in 2013 in similar circumstances. His death was explained as SWB.
Prolonged underwater breath holding is deadly due to the toxic combination of hyperventilation, metabolised oxygen and increased carbon dioxide causing black out.
According to the Shallow Water Blackout Prevention group, increased carbon dioxide normally triggers a breath, but because oxygen levels are so low on submersion (due to hyperventilation) there is not enough to initiate a breath and the swimmer loses consciousness.
The body reacts and forces a breath causing the lungs to fill with water, and without an immediate rescue drowning occurs.
“The key message we’re trying to get across is this is not about learning to swim. It’s not little kids drowning accidentally. It’s when they’re in their late teens, 20s, early 30s, and they’re confident swimmers but they’re competitive and this happens because they’re unaware,” Mrs Fisher said.
“We’re absolutely not trying to wreck your fun but just be aware of what can be happening to your body with repetitive breath holding, over and over,” Mrs Fisher said.
“If only we’d known. We were all doing it ourselves. For people with a pool at home, please spread the word. Display one of the signs at your backyard pool to create conversations around them,” she said.
“This really has only had a name for the last seven years and hopefully as time passes more people will become aware.
“Even today we’ll hear about a healthy, fit swimmer drowning and we’ll think, there’s another one,” Mrs Fisher said.
“Nic had only just finished primary school. Hopefully, this information and the signs will make a difference,” Mrs Fisher said.
To order warning signs ($30) or receive information about Shallow Water Blackout to share in schools or community groups, contact Judy Fisher by email at email@example.com.
Tony and Judy Fisher hold warning signs about breath holding in the hope of spreading word that Shallow Water Blackout can be prevented with awareness. Their son Nic, aged 12, died in 2001 of SWB. PHOTO: DUBBO PHOTO NEWS