Dallas Woman’s Tale Highlights Need for Pool Safety
The Paulding County Sheriff’s Office says a recent near-drowning is a reminder that caution should be taken even around small pools.
Last month, a Dallas woman experienced the horror of nearly losing her child to a pool drowning. Samantha Mealer, a mother of two, would have lost her daughter Skyla had it not been for the quick thinking of Derrick Dunagan, an employee of Ragsdale Heating and Air.
An incident so close to home reminds us that even a small pool can claim any child whose parents don’t take measures against it.
With about three more months of fun in the sun left, parents are encouraged by the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office to continue to exercise all due caution when it comes to young children and swimming.
Mealer is the mother of two. Her 2-year-old, Skyla, nearly drowned in the neighbors' pool.
Mealer explained that on the morning of the incident, her air conditioning had been cut off due to a problem with Freon. Because of the lack of air conditioning, the windows to the Mealers' home were opened with box fans set on the sills.
"Once I realized that it got quiet," she said, "I went to her room and saw she wasn't in there."
Mealer went searching for the child. While outside, she recruited Derik Dunagan, a Ragsdale Heating and Air employee, who was there to repair her air conditioner, to help find the child.
"He drops everything," she described. "He started looking around in the woods [near the house]."
Mealer went on to explain that the child was able to climb into the neighbors' pool despite the fact that the ladder had been removed. She was able to accomplish this by climbing onto the pump, which was situated next to the pool.
Mealer says she discovered her daughter, Skyla, underneath a float in the pool. She began to cry for help, which brought Dunagan running.
"I just started screaming, bawling," she said. "It's heartbreaking ... I really thought I had lost her."
Dunagan thought the same thing.
"I didn't think she was here with us anymore,” he said.
Dunagan said the child was not breathing, and her eyes had rolled into the back of her head. Mealer had been slapping the child's back in an attempt to force her lungs to spit the water out.
Dunagan took the limp child from Mealer and gave her a hard slap on the back, at which point she began coughing and screaming.
"It was the best scream I've ever heard in my life." Mealer said. She called the incident the single most terrifying moment of her life.
"You never think you're going to lose one of your children," she said. "You don't even have a mind to think with anymore."
Dunagan has two children of his own. He says that he was able to relate to the terror Mealer felt.
"It hit home, for sure," he said. He said the incident has changed his opinions about inflatable pools.
"It opened my eyes ... when you see these inflatable pools everywhere," he said. He went on to say that he doesn't think he would buy one for his home.
According to research by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 172 children under the age of 15 in the U.S. drowned between May 31 and Sept. 6, 2009. That figure was actually considered low by the CPSC—the number usually falls right around 200.
What can parents do to avoid living through the stress and near heartbreak similar to that of Samantha Mealer's, or worse, similar to the 200 families who actually do lose their children to the water?
Fences seem to be the most agreed-upon solution. Both Mealer and Dunagan thought so, as did Sgt. Brandon Gurley of the Paulding County Sheriff's Office.
Gurley said he expects the number of drownings here in Georgia to increase in the coming years, partly due to accessibility to inflatable pools.
"I've seen them at Wal-Mart for something like $50, pump and all," he said. He alleges that such low prices have led to these pools popping up everywhere in Georgia. That invariably leads to more near-drownings and actual drownings.
According to Gurley, the Sheriff's Department is doing everything it can to help spread awareness about the dangers of these inflatable pools, such as holding lectures on maintaining a safe pool. He says the best thing a parent can do to keep children from swimming unsupervised is placing a fence around the area.
"Obviously, removing the ladder isn't always enough," he said, referring to young Skyla Mealer's ability to climb into the pool.
"Even if it's a small kiddie pool that's not even bigger than your ankles, I would at least put up some kind of dog gate or something," she said. She has another piece of advice as well.
"As soon as you can't hear them anymore, go look for them," she said. "Don't just assume that they're playing nice and quietly. That's usually not the case with 2-year-olds.”