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'Every second counts': St. Louis nonprofit reminds families of the danger of drowning

Drowning is the number one cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, but also, the most preventable. The 'SWIM ON Foundation' is working to turn that around.

ST. LOUIS — One St. Louis family's tragedy is turning into a mission to save lives. 

As we head into the summer, that family is raising awareness of the danger of drowning.

Drowning continues to be the number one cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, but it's also the most preventable. 

That's why the McMullin's created their nonprofit, the 'SWIM ON Foundation' in hopes of turning that around and saving more lives. 

Lisa McMullin, President and Co-Founder, said they are members of a group called, 'Families United to Prevent Drowning.'

"What we hear over and over from the people in that group is I just didn't know. I didn't know how fast it was. I didn't know how important fences were. I didn't know how silent it was, so our goal in 'SWIM ON' is to let people know. I don't want to, I don't want to meet another person or another parent who says, 'I just didn't know,' so that's our aim," she said.

McMullin used to be one of those parents.

"I didn't know how fast it was. I didn't know how important fences were. I didn't know how silent it was," she said.

All of that changed though in September of 1982, according to McMullin.

"We had gone to a place north of St Louis, and ended up inviting other families, three other families, to come up for what we thought was going to be apple picking. It was a warm day, so the kids swam, although Nicholas was napping and then the other kids got out of the pool to have lunch. Nicholas woke up from his nap and I brought him down. There was one child still in the pool, but eight adults, a little bit of coming and going, getting lunch, but basically eight adults right there, and nobody saw him go in," she said.

The next thing McMullin saw was a family friend's son getting out of the pool, holding her 22-month-old, Nicholas, in his hands.

"We were a long way from a hospital. It was 45 minutes before the ambulance got there. Whether that would have made a difference? I don't know," she said.

What McMullin does know now though is the loss of a child and it's her mission to make sure no other family feels that same grief.

"We founded 'SWIM ON Foundation' to try and raise awareness about drowning and how to prevent drowning," she said.

The nonprofit does that through several different programs that teach five layers of protection.

Underneath the acronym 'SAFER' the five layers include swim lessons, adult supervision, fences and gates, emergency preparedness and regulation floatation. 

According to McMullin, these are all ways to prevent this tragedy.

"Parents have too many fears coming at them from all directions. I don't want to be one more," she said.

McMullin continues to make it her mission to work with families, just like hers.

"These are caring parents, loving parents, responsible parents who didn't ever imagine that drowning would happen to them," she said.

McMullin hopes sharing her story makes it real for others and every time she does, she feels closer to her Nicholas.

"I think all of a sudden you see that whether it's our family or their family or these other families, and you think, oh, that could be me," she said.

If a child is missing, McMullin said to check the pool first.

"Every second counts. It's important to find them, as soon as you can," she said.

The 'SWIM ON Foundation' has a lot of resources available here

McMullin said they are now offering 'CPR Parties,' which is free CPR training in private homes. 'SWIM ON' instructors will come and teach CPR in an hour-long session to groups of eight to 10.

'SWIM ON' in partnership with 'British Swim School' is also implementing a program of swim lessons in North County.

McMullin said they are looking for instructors to help with the program and they will provide the lessons for free.


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