How to spot the real signs of drowning


Like many parents, Colleen Boyer spends a lot of time poolside with her sons, 7-year-old Myles and 5-year-old Nolan.

“They’re both just super excited about summer,” Boyer said.

Boyer knows her sons are not strong swimmers, so she’s enrolled them in a week-long course at the Penn Colonial pool in Lower Paxton Township, in Dauphin County.

“It’s incredibly important to me that my children learn to swim, and strongly, so that if they ever find themselves in a situation water-related that they have a really good fighting chance,” she said.

But would Boyer know the signs if her sons were in trouble in the water?

“They’re going to be splashing really erratically and sporadically and probably trying to look around really frantically, but not being able to focus,” she said.

Swim instructor Megan deManincor isn’t surprised by Boyer’s answer.

“I think that’s the general public consensus,” deManincor said. “They think due to movies, advertisements, past preconceived notions, that it’s a loud, violent, lots of splashing, they can call for help, when in actuality, it’s the exact opposite.”

DeManincor has taught thousands of kids how to swim and trained thousands of lifeguards across the state. She says drowning rarely looks like what you would expect.

Real drowning, she says, is deceptively silent.

“When you hear silence, that’s when you really have to be worried,” she said.

Kids won’t be able to call for help, deManincor says. Instead, their eyes will show their distress. They won’t be able to splash or flail their arms. Instead, their arms will be out in front reaching, or more likely down at their side like they’re trying to push themselves up. Ultimately, a drowning child will end up in what she calls a starfish pose.

“So, usually, it is just like a starfish, just straight,” deManincor said. “As you’re taking in water, it just paralyzes your lungs, throat, vocal cords … so that’s why you can’t yell for help.”

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that for one in 10 drownings, adults are right there and have no idea what’s really happening.

“Always have someone that’s a water watcher,” deManincor said, “and that person please, please, please put the cell phone down.”

Boyer said she was surprised to find out the real signs of drowning. She says it only reinforces the importance of swim lessons.

“We’ll keep doing it until we get there,” Boyer said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests starting swim lesson as early as age one. DeManincor also suggests life jackets for kids under age four.

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