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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Pool gate closed? Latched? Not good enough.

Stephanie Parker eventually found out exactly how her grandson, Jayson Kubicka, then 2½, wandered into the fenced, gated and latched backyard pool area that day in June 2010 when she found him, lifeless and blue, floating at the bottom.

Stephanie and Jayson, at 5. Photo by Daniel Friedman

He showed her.

The Parkers had recently moved into their home in Central Phoenix. Jayson, a few months shy of his third birthday, was playing in the backyard with the family dog. The Parkers were first-time pool owners.  The gate to the five-foot pool fence was closed and latched. Stephanie kept an eye out from the house as she worked that day, organizing and unpacking.

When the dog started scratching at the door to come in, Stephanie scanned the backyard but she didn’t see her grandson. In a panic, she rushed out and looked over to the pool. There was Jayson, motionless, floating near the bottom. Stephanie plunged in.

This story has a happy ending. Though it was touch and go for awhile, Jayson ultimately made a complete recovery from drowning. After treatment at Phoenix Children’s, he was treated and released.

The first thing he wanted to do when he got home? Go swimming.

“I almost had a heart attack hearing him say that,” says Stephanie. “I was shaking.”

During Jayson’s two-day hospital stay, Stephanie says the family wondered how they would even be able to look at a pool after what had just happened. They considered filling it in.

But they wanted their new home to be a fun place for family gatherings and a good place for Jayson to grow up. And he loved to swim. He wanted his third birthday party to be a pool party.

So the Parkers resolved to be better pool owners. They committed to staying current with CPR certification, to establish set rules for access to the pool and to take Jayson for swim lessons. While Jayson was in the hospital, they installed a heavy duty magnetic lock on the gate that took two hands to open.

Going in the water for the first time after the accident was tough, says Stephanie, but they did it together. That turned out to be a daunting, but ultimately healing, experience.

But how had Jayson gotten past the pool fence and the self-closing, latched gate the day of the accident?

Stephanie says they searched everywhere around the pool area and fence, wondering how he had been able to get in. Did he climb up and over the five-foot fence?

When Jayson was admitted to the emergency room, doctors found no evidence of injuries from a fall from a fence-climbing accident. There were no planters or chairs or other objects anywhere that he could have climbed for a “boost.” There wasn’t room for Jayson to crawl under the fence, or between the vertical rails. How did he manage to do it?

Jayson Kubicka, 5, swimming in the backyard pool where he survived a near drowning in 2010. Photo by Daniel Friedman

Taking a break from that first family swim after the accident, Jayson climbed out of the pool and headed for the gate. The family watched, stunned, as he climbed up the iron bars and tried to open the latch, this time from inside the pool.

Jayson couldn’t budge this newer, heavy magnetic lock. But that solved the mystery. Jayson knew how to open the latch himself. That was how he’d gotten in.

“He used his little monkey feet and shimmied up the bar,” says Stephanie. “I didn’t know that he would know how to reach it, or even how to do it. I guess he saw us do it. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for.”

Jayson will turn 6 this September. He loves swimming, baseball, soccer and ice skating. He is learning Spanish.

Stephanie volunteers with Phoenix Children’s Water Watchers program, helping to spread the word about drowning prevention.

“It doesn’t just happen to people who aren’t good parents or good grandparents,” says Stephanie. “Never, never underestimate the power, the draw, of the backyard swimming pool.”

Is your pool barrier safe? Does the gate to your pool fence lock? Is your family on board with pool rules?

Stephanie Parker’s tips:

  • Make sure your gate is self-closing and that it is not only latched, but locked. Call your local fire department for an inspection of your backyard pool area for safety purposes.
  • Members of the Phoenix Children’s Injury Prevention Team offer assessments for pool safety
  • Learn CPR, stay updated and keep your certification current
  • My pool, my rules: Be diligent and speak up to visitors, out-of-town guests or extended family members about your expectations for pool safety protocols.
  • Eyes on: Many drowning incidents happen when a pool is crowded with swimmers. Designate one person to be a water watcher who is committed to doing nothing else but watching the pool.
  • Make it very clear to children, even from a very young age, that entering the pool area without an adult is not allowed — even if it is a winter day when no one is swimming.

Think you’re pretty savvy about drowning prevention? Take the “Just a few seconds quiz” and find out. 

Resources:

Fence and barrier codes for Maricopa County

Arizona Department for Health and Safety legal requirements for pool ownership

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Vicki Louk Balint

Multimedia journalist Vicki Balint covers health and safety for Raising Arizona Kids.

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