Water Safety: Tragedies Can Be Prevented

For Zulma Berrios, M.D., an obstetrician/gynecologist at West Kendall Baptist Hospital and South Miami Hospital, water safety is a deeply personal cause. Five years ago, her niece, Gala, drowned in a backyard pool in Puerto Rico weeks before her second birthday.

“I know how devastating this can be,” Dr. Berrios said. “Promoting water safety has become my passion because I never want another family to go through the tragedy.”

The Centers for Disease Control reports that there are approximately 10 deaths a day in the United States from drowning. South Florida children, with water and pools everywhere, are particularly vulnerable.

“What makes this so important is that drowning is a 100 percent preventable tragedy,” said Fernando Mendoza, M.D., director of the Children’s Emergency Centers at Baptist Hospital and West Kendall Baptist Hospital. “We cannot prevent many of the illnesses our children get, but we can do something about this.”

Drs. Berrios, Mendoza and the team at Baptist Health advocate vigilance around water as the first step. Parents should never think that someone is watching their child – even at a crowded party or small family gathering. Families should install a pool fence and lock all doors leading out to the pool.  Children should learn basic swimming skills at a young age, such as finding the edge of the pool, and adults should learn how to administer CPR.

“In a few minutes a family can be destroyed, but these are life-saving measures that everyone can do,” Dr. Berrios said.

Recreational swimming in all water, including oceans, hot tubs and water parks, poses additional risks. While germs in the water can make swimmers sick, summer revelers can keep some tips in mind to ensure a safer experience.  Swimmers should never swallow the water they swim in, even if they believe it is clear and clean. All swimmers should stay out of the water if they have diarrhea. This is especially true for young children wearing swim diapers or swim pants, which are not 100 percent leakproof.

Sunburns can also be dangerous. They increase the risk of melanoma, a serious skin cancer.  Sunburns are preventable, however, by wearing a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater and reapplying every two to three hours or after sweating and swimming. SPF is a number that tells how well a sunscreen protects skin from UV light. Other tips include staying out of the sun in the middle of the day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the light is the strongest and enjoying the outdoors from under a sun umbrella, tree or shady spot.

“Our environment is beautiful and allows us to have an active lifestyle, but we need to understand the risks and responsibilities that come with it,” said Dr. Mendoza.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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