Central Florida seeing increase in children drowning, doctors say

Many drownings happening at vacation rentals

A pediatric trauma doctor at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children says they have seen a dramatic increase in emergency room visits for pediatric drownings, and many of the victims are tourists staying at vacation rentals.
A pediatric trauma doctor at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children says they have seen a dramatic increase in emergency room visits for pediatric drownings, and many of the victims are tourists staying at vacation rentals.

A pediatric trauma doctor at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children says they have seen a dramatic increase in emergency room visits for pediatric drownings, and many of the victims are tourists staying at vacation rentals.

A Brooklyn family renting a vacation home on Narrative Lane in Osceola County, made a dramatic call to 911 after they found their 4-year-old unresponsive in the pool.

Just over an hour later, the child was pronounced dead at Arnold Palmer Hospital where Dr. Donald Plumley is the medical director of pediatric trauma and sees cases like that all too often.

“We’re at record numbers,” Plumley said. “We’ve seen a big increase in drownings and it has us concerned.”

Two weeks ago, there was another near-drowning on the same street where the 4-year-old died in February..

“There is kind of a little cluster down in the Four Corners area, the tourism district,” Plumley said.

Four corners is located near the borders of Orange, Lake, Polk and Osceola Counties.

In May 2020, the four-county area had three drownings. In May 2021, it tripled to nine.

“Because of the quarantine, a lot of kids didn’t get swimming lessons. People weren’t around pools and people are just excited to get back to normalcy,” Plumley said.

As of June 17, Osceola County Fire Rescue responded to 57 calls for drownings or near-drownings. Dr. Plumley estimates that about half of the children being brought to Arnold Palmer are tourists staying in vacation rentals.

“People from out of town haven’t been around pools and probably haven’t been around pools in two years now,” Plumley said. “It can happen really, really fast.”

Nicole Hughes said that’s how it happened to her family.

“It was so fast. It was a minute,” Hughes said. “I turned to throw something away, and he was not there”

Three years ago her 3-year-old son Levi drowned while the family was staying at a vacation rental.

“And, he had somehow made his way to the pool, and he was in it,” Hughes said.

Hughes now produces public service announcements with the American Academy of Pediatrics

“It’s a super preventable thing and it’s just sad and tragic for families and something we can help fix, I hope,” Plumley said.

Plumley teaches the ABC’s to water safety:

  • A: Adult supervision
  • B: Barriers — having a fence around the pool and locks and alarms on the doors leading to the pool
  • C: Classes — swim lessons for children and CPR classes for adults

“A lot of the kids that survive, they get them out of the pool quick, they get CPR and those are the kids that survive,” Plumley said.

Experts say even the kids that survive near-drownings can sometimes have lifelong complications.


About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.