Could you die after surviving underwater incident? Answer is yes, experts say

Experts want public to be aware of symptoms

By Adrianna Iwasinski - Investigative Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - July is already off to a deadly start with a 2-year-old drowning in Melbourne on Sunday. And Monday afternoon, Cocoa police alerted News 6 about a 63-year-old man who died of an apparent drowning, after he was found dead in his backyard pool.

News 6 has learned there are several near-drownings that happen every day that could result in death days later if a person is not treated in time.

"The first 24 hours is quite critical, " said Dr. Shoba Srikantan, who is a pediatrician and critical care physician at Orlando 's Arnold Palmer Hospital For Children. She says 1 in 10 children die in the United States every day from drowning - and 1 in 1,000 people die around the world from the very same thing. Dr. Srikantan says some of those deaths could have been prevented.

"You reach kind of a critical threshold where your kids aren't able to get in the oxygen that they need into their lungs," said Dr. Srikantan. "It’s very tragic, but we have a case or two every year where a young child dies in the bathtub."

So what happens if your kid got caught under a big wave and took in a bunch of water in the ocean?

Or even struggled underwater in a pool, but recovered quickly afterward?

Do you bother to take them to the hospital?

Dr. Srikantan says you do if you notice these key signs – if your child is having difficulty breathing or is breathing faster, or if he or she is coughing more and is fatigued and his or her appetite is way down.


And of course if he or she starts vomiting, get to a doctor right away.

"What happened is they struggled under the water and this inflammation process is going on in their lungs, so it is an aspiration event that is triggering a pneumonitis, an inflammation, or even pulmonary edema," said Dr. Srikantan.

Dr. Srikantan says that's when we see tragedies like what happened to 4-year-old Frankie Delgado in Texas last month, who days after going swimming on a family trip stopped breathing - and died of complications from drowning - notably fluid in the lungs.

"I would just say if it seems a little unusual to you, don't be afraid to seek medical attention," said Dr. Srikantan.

And once you do, a machine like this Pulse Oxymeter can help check your blood to see if you need more critical care.

"And if they need some oxygen we give them some oxygen," said Dr. Srikantan. "And that process usually resolves itself in 4 to 6 hours if they are given the supportive care - and that's the key!"

Dr. Srikantan says a way to prevent these close calls turning into something much worse is what she calls the ABCs, which stands for Ability, Barriers and Close supervision.

She says know your child's swimming ability and get them in swimming lessons.
Make sure you have proper barriers in place like a pool fence or alarm.
And make sure your children are within arm's reach of you, especially if they are very young - whether it’s at the pool, at the beach, or even in the bathtub.

Dr. Srikantan says many of these near-drowning instances can lead to an aspiration event which if left untreated could lead to dangerous, even deadly complications down the line. In her 14 years practicing here in Central Florida, she says she’s seen a lot of children pass away from these aspiration events while they were here with their families for a vacation or reunion.

"It’s unbelievably tragic, whether it be in the hotel pool, a rented house that they don’t think should have a barrier, or a cruise ship," said Dr. Srikantan.

But she says if a person is brought in with borderline symptoms early enough, it can lead to a positive result.

"And we are able to watch them in the emergency room sometimes just for a few hours - and then send them home. Or just watch them overnight," said Dr. Srikantan.

That's what happened on June 26, when a 5-year-old child was brought to the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children after a near-drowning incident at a Disney resort. A hospital spokesperson says the child was treated and released.

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