I suppose it would be thrilling for anyone to be quoted in a nationally recognized and highly read media source. And for me, today’s the day. Because there, in crystal clear black and white, in the July 22 edition of The New York Times are the words, “said Dana Gage.”
I feel no thrill. But I do feel hope.
When Dr. Ben Hoffman from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) referred me to Dr. Perri Klass, a respected pediatrician, NYU professor and weekly columnist on children’s health for the Times, I wasn’t sure it would lead to much. Most national drowning coverage focuses on pool drownings — and justifiably so — as drowning is the #1 cause of accidental death for children ages 1 to 4. Not all, but sadly most, of those drownings happen in pools. So there is, understandably, a great deal of attention on how to protect our littles around pool settings.
Enter Nicole Hughes, a remarkable woman from Tennessee who knows this pain all too well. Nicole lost her 3-year-old son Levi just last year (2018) to a pool drowning during a family vacation with friends. Nicole has worked tirelessly with national media and the AAP to reshape how drowning prevention and water safety measures get communicated to moms of littles. (We need to know what we don’t know.) But Nicole didn’t stop there. Somehow she had the ability to see beyond her own broken heart to mine — and those like mine. As a former middle school teacher, Nicole has a heart for teens, and she sees clearly that water is water, danger is danger, and water safety doesn’t end once a child learns how to swim. She, with the help of Dr Hoffman, connected me with Dr Klass. Nicole’s kindness, tenacity and endless well of empathy are changing hearts and minds about what it means to be safe in water. All water.
During the Times interview, I shared both my story and my seven years of learning / research on open water drownings with Dr Klass. I shared that few people understand that drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for teens 15 to 19 (most of those in natural water). I shared that Connor was an excellent swimmer, a talented athlete, an experienced lake kid… yet he died in open water. I shared that few parents know that drowning rates triple at age 15 in natural water. I shared that while we talk of many layers of protection in pools, somehow the need for those layers mysteriously vanish as those littles become bigs who go to the lake. As adults, we think they’re safe. And when something goes wrong, we conveniently blame the victim’s “risky behavior.” We couldn’t be more wrong. As adults in charge, our water safety job does not end because a teenager knows how to swim. Those layers of protection are equally important in open water. And just like a seat belt’s protection in a car accident, our greatest defense on the lake is a life vest.
Had Connor been required to wear one, he’d be alive. And this website would not even exist.
Littles or bigs, toddlers or teens, water is water. It’s our job to protect them.
The “awfully wonderful” part is that we’re starting a dialogue about teens in open water, one we hope will save lives. But the just plain “awful” are the words that follow… “said Dana Gage, whose 15-year-old son, Connor, drowned in a Texas lake in 2012.” This is not how it’s supposed to go. These are not the words I want to read. And more importantly, they’re not the words I want any parent to ever read. So, the awfully wonderful awful work continues.
We LoVe our littles. We LoVe our bigs. Let’s protect them both. Water safety is lifelong. All water. All ages. Always.
— Dana Gage, Connor’s Mom + Founder, The LV Project