The Tidewater region is a watery paradise. Bays, rivers, canals, lakes, ponds and the ocean are steps away from our neighborhoods. Many homes have swimming pools—above and below ground—jacuzzis, and bathtubs. Every single one of these bodies of water is a threat to your child’s survival.
Drowning is the number one cause of injury death for children 1-4 years of age, according to Safe Kids. An estimated 1,000 children fatally drown in a single year, 70 percent of them between May and August. Research shows that for every fatal child drowning, nearly seven children are seen in the emergency room (ER) because of a non-fatal drowning incident. That translates to 150 families each week who experience a frightening or tragic water event. And these numbers don’t capture the other children who are rescued and never taken to the ER.
Increased access to water becomes a risk factor for any individual, especially children. The body of water could be any depth and location, ranging from a water-filled ditch to a large body of water like the ocean. These deaths are preventable, so let’s learn about the measures we can take to ensure fewer tragedies like this happen.
The Unimaginable Tragedy
Remembering Gabriella “Bean” Bianchi
One morning last August Kim Bianchi dropped off her youngest child, Gabriella—affectionately known as “Bean”—with her mother, Barb Iman. “Gigi” took Bean shopping for some special dolls. After returning home, Bean played with the dolls most of the morning. Then Barb asked her granddaughter to start cleaning up so that they could join friends for lunch.
As the two prepared to leave the house, the unimaginable happened. When Barb couldn’t find Bean putting away her dolls, she thought Bean was playing a game of hide and seek. She checked all her granddaughter’s favorite spots and called to her often as she urgently looked around the house.
Fear grasped Barb as she checked out back in the pool, where she saw her granddaughter in the water, unresponsive. She immediately reacted by giving Bean CPR, but to no avail. Gabriella Bianchi lost her life on August 14, 2019.
At two-and-a-half, Bean was a feisty, loving, and giving little girl. She showed compassion to everyone she met, no matter the age. Her zest for life was apparent through the descriptions of her from loved ones and in the images captured of her beautiful smile.
Bean made an impact on each person she met with her huge personality and her warm heart. So, it’s no surprise that even after losing her life to tragedy, Bean was able to give life to others.
As the tragedy sunk in, LifeNet contacted Bean’s mother, Kim, to request organs to help other children in need. At first, Kim refused, still shaken from the tragedy. Finally, she allowed LifeNet to take the heart valves from Bean’s heart to give to other children saving their lives. Bean lives on in those who received her heart valves and in the hearts of those who knew her.
Afterwards, Kim recalled her efforts to find swimming lessons for Bean that spring. One place she called was fully booked and asked her to call back at another time. She considers now that she should have sought out other places.
This is one reason Kim and her mother, Barb, have developed a foundation in Bean’s name. The two women have taken to heart the naturally giving spirit of their beloved Bean to create a nonprofit to provide scholarships for other children to take self-rescue lessons to prevent future drownings.
Bean’s Way Foundation is currently in its infancy as a nonprofit, but Kim and Barb are already accepting applications for scholarships and planning fundraising to support their mission. Their advocacy stems from heartache, but Kim is determined that “not another mother feel the way that I feel.”
Steps You Can Take To Avoid Drowning
Use Water Watcher Cards Around Bodies of Water
Experts suggest the following techniques to help prevent potential dangers near water:
- Always supervise small children at all times near any water. It is recommended that an adult be within an arm’s reach of each child near a body of water at all times.
- Be aware. Read posted signage about potential beach hazards, warning flags, and weather reports detailing rough waves, riptides, or strong undercurrents.
- Utilize fencing or enclosures around all bodies of water. Surround a pool with fencing that is 4 feet or higher with a gate that can only be reached from the inside by an adult. Enclosing the pool or bodies of water helps keep children out of the area.
- Experts recommend that all children are fitted properly for a life vest. Floaties, tubes, and other such fun water inflatables are not meant to be life-saving devices.
- While most swimming lessons are not taught as survival skills, they can still be helpful in getting to solid and safe ground. Self-rescue skills (see sidebar) are skills that help children learn to swim, float, and breathe until someone comes to their rescue if they fall into a body of water.
- Use Water Watcher cards. A Water Watcher is a responsible adult who is willing to be completely devoted to watching all children in the water for a 15-minute chunk of time. The adult should be without distractions and actively supervising the children. After the 15 minutes is over, this adult passes on the Water Watcher card to the next adult. You can download a Water Watcher card at www.safekids.org.
Infant Swimming Resource Teaches Self-Rescue Techniques
Classes Available For Kids Ages 6 Months & Up
What is the mission of ISR?
Infant Swimming Resource and its Certified Instructors strive to realize our mission to live in a world in which Not One More Child Drowns. Each lesson is taught one-on-one with the student and the Instructor in the water, is customized for the child, and includes a comprehensive health evaluation and monitoring. Lessons are delivered by Certified ISR Instructors in 10-minute lessons, five days per week for four to six weeks. Infants 6 to 12 months learn to hold their breath under water, roll onto their backs, and float unassisted. Infants over one year old learn the following sequence: how to hold their breath underwater, swim with their head down, roll onto their back to float, rest, and breathe, and roll back over to resume swimming until they reach the side of the pool and can crawl out.
What’s the most important take away from the lesson?
Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for infants and toddlers under the age of 4. Drowning is preventable, and ISR Instructors teach children to save themselves if they were to reach the water alone. Using ISR’s Self-Rescue™ swimming method, children as young as six months can learn to save themselves from drowning. At ISR, we integrate skills that are developmentally appropriate for young children, teaching them to save their own lives while building the confidence that can lead to a lifetime of fun in and around the water.
What’s the vision for the program moving forward?
Infant Swimming Resource is the safest and most effective provider of comprehensive swimming and water safety lessons for young children that offers a proven method to teach infants and young children survival swimming skills in a completely safe environment. ISR has invested more than 50 years in a child’s ability to play safely in and around the water, while lessening the risk of drowning. ISR has taught more than 300,000 children. ISR has over 800 documented cases of a child’s successfully using ISR Self Rescue™ skills to avoid drowning.
What’s your favorite part of teaching these self-rescue techniques?
When a child leaves us, we know they are walking away with a life skill that can maybe one day save their lives.
Why did you become an instructor?
We wanted to join the mission to live in a world in which Not One More Child Drowns.
What’s the hardest part about being an instructor?
In Hampton Roads, there are many seasonal facilities and backyard pools that allow children the opportunity to swim. This provides ISR swim instructors the opportunity to teach between Memorial Day and Labor Day. However, water never disappears. In the fall and winter, there are facilities in our area that provide swim lessons, but ISR, unfortunately, is not part of these locations. Finding year-round facilities will allow us to teach more children.
As spring approaches and winter slips away, making time to enroll and participate in self-rescue skill classes for your children should be top priority. Give yourself peace of mind by preparing each one of your children with self-rescue skills that will allow him or her to be calm and confident that they can survive if they fall into a body of water.
Think of Bean and her family’s mission to honor her life through advocacy for not one more life lost through a body of water.
To learn more about Bean’s Way Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the mission of not one more life lost to water, visit: www.beanswayfoundation.com.
For more info. on the Infant Swimming Resource program, visit www.infantswim.com.
Erica Whitfield is a freelance writer, artist, and runner, who lives in Virginia Beach. She can often be found outdoors with her chocolate lab, Murphy. Follow her most recent adventures on Instagram @ericas.whitfield and on her website: dr1v3n.wordpress.com.