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CDC Injury Center: Director's View Blog

The purpose of this blog is to foster public discussion about injury and violence prevention and response and gain perspectives of those we serve.

Stopping Kids from Drowning: Why I Do What I Do at the Injury Center

Categories: CDC Injury Center, Home & Recreational Safety

Guest blogger: Julie Gilchrist, MD

Julie Gilchrist, MD

Julie Gilchrist, MD

People who work in hospitals and emergency departments can tell you. Treating kids is a hard job—especially when a child comes in with a serious injury that could have been prevented.  I still get sad remembering some of the cases I worked on as a doctor in Philadelphia—many of my stories don’t have happy endings.

My most vivid memory is of two teenage boys from New York City who were visiting Philadelphia on a reward trip for doing well in school. They were playing around a motel swimming pool before dinner, when one boy fell into the deep end. The second boy jumped in to help his friend. Neither boy knew how to swim.  

When emergency medical responders arrived on the scene, the boy who tried to help his friend was already dead. The first boy who had fallen into the pool was still alive, but in bad shape. He was immediately flown to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. But it was too late. His brain had been without oxygen for too long, and he was brain dead. We kept him on life support, while we waited for his family to arrive from New York so they could make the decision to take him off life support and say goodbye.

Drowning is tragic—there is often no chance of saving someone even if they survive to get to the hospital – too much damage has already been done. With all the medical treatment available, we couldn’t do anything once the oxygen supply to the brain was cut off.  Injuries like drowning can steal our loved ones and cut their lives short – that’s why we must prevent them before they happen.

I often think that if these boys had only known how to swim and had learned basic rescue skills, like CPR, they would still be alive today.  Swimming lessons are more than just a fun activity—they can save lives!

When I learned that injuries kill more children than cancer, HIV, or the flu, I knew that I needed to do more.  There had to be a better way than treating kids one-by-one in the ED after they had already been injured. I wanted to work toward preventing childhood injuries before they occur, and that was when I started a career at CDC.

As a doctor, you know the results from your efforts fairly quickly—the names and faces of the patients and families are tied to what you do each day. Working in injury prevention is different, but just as rewarding. At the Injury Center, we’ve been working for 20 years to help protect people from violence and injury threats and from the lifelong mental, physical and financial problems that can follow.

CDC is well known for its science and research. But I am most proud when the Injury Center puts science into action and gets it to organizations and individuals who protect their communities and families. I also appreciate any opportunity to work with partners who reach parents directly to help them make better decisions for their children.  

Injuries kill more young people than any other cause, and CDC continues to be a leader in identifying what works to prevent them. Our work helps people protect themselves and their families. For instance, we know that taking swimming lessons at a young age works, and that immediate CPR is the most important thing that can be done to save a life during a drowning. And we want every parent to know this and act on it!

At the Injury Center, we have many committed leaders in the field of injury prevention, and we continue every day to move our science to action to protect people from injuries.

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. August 2, 2012 at 8:37 am ET  -   Patty Puline

    As the chairman for our local Child Death Review team, it is important for us to focus on the child deaths we experience every year in our county. We seem helpless to stop the increase, and it is apparent we need to focus more efforts, staff and funding on this effort. Yet none exist in Erie county. How can the CDC help us?
    Most of the deaths are rural ponds, not backyard swimming pools, where the children (generally toddlers) swim unattended or unsupervised. Alarms? Fencing? All have been suggested, but we lack funding to purchase these, and the staff to educate parents.
    Any help appreciated

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  2. September 1, 2012 at 4:07 am ET  -   William

    Doctor, I just read your post you are 100%. I have been a police office for over 19 years and seem to many needless drownings because the adults or teens just didn’t have basic CPR skills or basic water safety knowledge. Earlier this year I started teaching water safety and basic CPR to parents and family members of young children. Education is paramount. I will start having on-line classes this fall. If you can pass the word on and invite others to the site I would truly appreciate it. Thank you.

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