When we talk about kids and pool safety, we often talk about what parents can do to make their own backyard pools safer. Products and items, like fencing and pool alarms, are necessary purchases for any parent installing a pool or moving into a home that has one, but kids aren’t always swimming at home or going for a swim at all.
When Olympian Bode Miller and his wife Morgan Beck Miller lost their 19-month-old daughter Emeline to drowning just over a month ago, they weren’t at home. Morgan and the younger kids were at a neighbor’s home when Emeline slipped away from the adults, out a door, and into the water.
In an interview with the TODAY show, the Millers are asking other families to remember that pool safety isn’t just an issue if you have a pool, but if you’re visiting anyone who has one.
“A child under 30 pounds can drown in 30 seconds. And I just keep counting to 30 in my head. That was all I needed,” Morgan explains in a heartbreaking and tearful interview.
“When you go to someone else’s house, survey the home to see if it’s a safe place for your child to be,” she continues.
Bode had taken his oldest daughter to her softball game that afternoon while Morgan took the younger kids over to visit the family’s nextdoor neighbours, who they consider family.
“And it was just a normal day over there. We sat on the sofa and she played in front of us,” Morgan told TODAY, explaining that she sipped tea while the boys and Emmy were playing nearby.
“And Emmy would go back and forth, which was all of 15 feet. And all of the sudden, it was just too quiet for me,” Morgan explained. “We’re in mid-conversation and I stood up. And I turned and I went right to where the boys were and I said ‘Where’s Emmy?'”
That’s when she noticed a sliver of light coming through the door that leads to her neighbour’s backyard.
“And my heart sank and I opened the door and she was floating in the pool. And I ran and I jumped in,” she explains.
Bode Miller still can’t quite fathom just how quickly it all happened.
“I can attest from first-hand experience now it’s unbelievable quick and it’s unbelievable sneaky. You’d think it’d be some weird circumstance or some strange thing. And it’s not. It just happens in the blink of an eye.”
The Millers are expecting another child in the fall, and losing one baby while preparing for another has been incredibly difficult. The couple are sharing their grief on a national stage so that other parents and pool owners understand how incredibly common and quick these tragedies are.
“It’s an obligation to some degree,” Bode told TODAY. “I think it does, in some way, help to heal a little bit. That maybe we’re preventing it from happening to somebody else.”
Safety statistics suggest about 69% of kids who drown were not meant to be swimming when they did , and the World Health Organization notes that “globally, the highest drowning rates are among children 1–4 years, followed by children 5–9 years.”
Prevention is key
If you have a pool or are planning to stay at a vacation rental with a pool, make sure that it has “self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward with latches that are out of reach of children,” as suggested by the CDC. “Additional barriers such as automatic door locks and alarms” are also recommended.
If you’re visiting someone who has a pool, like the Millers were, take a note from the Mayo Clinic and Nicole Hughes, a mother who lost her son Levi in a situation very similar to the Millers. Both the Mayo Clinic and Hughes recommend parents take turns as the “designated watcher” or “water guardian”, so that one adult is always focused on the kids.
Taking turns taking a few minutes away from the party means an adult will be there during the thirty seconds that matter most.
[Update July 30, 2018: Added additional quotes after full interview aired on July 30.]