When Cheyenne Arreola awoke the morning of June 2, 2009, she had no way of knowing the next time she set her head on a pillow, her life would be forever altered.
That day began without distinction. Arreola's daughter prepped her 6-year-old son Ethan Bennett for his first day of summer day camp. The camp's activity that day was swimming.
Ethan nearly drowned on June 2, 2009, rescued after one of his fellow child campers noticed him struggling beneath the water's surface. Ethan survived, but has a severe traumatic brain injury.
"I really wish I wasn't here," Arreola told a crowd at Safe Kids Tucson's Drowning Impact Awareness event last Thursday. "I wish I didn't have this experience to share."
On June 2, 2009, "my world stopped," said Arreola. "Prior to that date, I was like all of you. I watched the news reporting drownings and thought that could and would never happen to my family. My grandson Ethan is lost in a way. He's still the same person, the same spirit, of which we thank God for, but I haven't heard his voice in one year."
After Ethan's accident, he lost motor-function ability, affecting not only speech but all movement including walking. Ethan is reliant on a wheelchair and his family to perform every function of daily life.
"It's something so preventable," Arreola said. "We thought we were a safe family, we would never let the kids take a bath alone. I have no answer to him as to why his life was turned upside down. Those few minutes we will never get back."
According to Safe Kids USA, drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional death among children ages one to four years and 10 to 14 years. For infants less than one year old, drowning is the third-leading cause of death.
In the past year, Pima County has had 13 water incidents and one fatality. Water incidents are events in which a person is submerged, inhales water or loses breath.
"That seems bad enough," said Tracy Koslowski with Drexel Heights Fire District, "but I want to remind you all that last year, there were 23 incidents."
Maricopa County had 79 water incidents last year and 23 deaths. Nine were children.
"All of these were preventable," Koslowski said. "Arizona has the second highest child drowning rate in America, second to Florida." The average age of a drowned child is 6. Fifty percent of drownings occur in home pools, "but spas, buckets, canals, rivers" can all be the mediums. Ten percent of children who survive near-drownings will have permanent damage.
"We need to let go of the misconception that when drownings happen, it's a loud event. It's silent," said Lori Schmidt, president of the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona. "If you (can't find) your child, check the water hazard areas first."
Andy Reidy with Safe Kids Tucson shared the "ABCs of water safety." A is for adult supervision, B is for barriers around pools and bodies of water, C is for classes including swimming, CPR, and other safety lessons.
In 2004, August was named drowning impact awareness month by Phoenix Children's Hospital, and it was proclaimed recently by Gov. Jan Brewer.
Thousands of health care and law enforcement professionals across Arizona are wearing purple ribbons during August to promote drowning awareness. At Thursday's event, the ribbons represented the lives lost to drowning in Pima County over the last 10 years. Twenty-seven ribbons were tied around a flotation ring. Ten of the ribbons represented children.
"It doesn't end at drowning," said Arreola, "there's life after, consequences of which there is no roadmap."
Drownings happen, fatal and non-fatal, Reidy said. But they shouldn't, according to the Drowning Impact Awareness Month slogan, "Because when a child drowns, it hurts us all."
Arizona water safety facts
• June, July, and August are peak months for child drownings in Arizona. Distractions such as back-to-school make August a high-risk month for child drowning.
• Drowning is a top cause of injury-related death for children in Arizona, especially for children in the age 1-5 group.
• Every child drowning is preventable. Sometimes, little can be done for a child once he or she has fallen into the water.
• To prevent child drownings, follow the ABCs of water safety. A — Adult supervision when children have access to water. B — Barriers between children and water. C — Classes in CPR for adults, swimming lessons for children.
Three basic steps can be followed to prevent drownings:
1. Block access to swimming pools with layers of protection such as pool fence barriers and childproof locks on gates and doors leading to the pool.
2. Watch children closely when they have access to water. More than two-thirds of children who drown in Arizona were not expected to be near the pool.
3. Learn what to do in an emergency. If a child is missing, check water hazard areas first. Keep CPR skills fresh by refreshing them once a year, and teach children to swim at the appropriate age.