Baker family motivated by the death  of 7-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker

(Washington, DC – May 2, 2006) James A. Baker, III, Secretary of State under former President George Bush, and daughter-in-law Nancy Baker are supporting new legislation expected to be introduced shortly in connection with Safe Kids Week that would offer incentive grants to states that pass laws requiring safeguards to prevent drowning, drain entrapment and entanglement in swimming pools and spas.

 


Left to right: Dr. Martin R. Eichelberger, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, James A. Baker III, former Secretary of State, Nancy Baker, mother of Graeme Baker, Bob Daretta, Vice Chairman of Johnson & Johnson, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Diana Goldberg, Chairman of the Board of Safe Kids Worldwide and Edwin K. Zechman Jr., president and CEO of Children’s National Medical Center - more photos >>

Baker’s granddaughter, Virginia Graeme Baker, died four years ago when she became entrapped in the drain of a spa. It took several adults to help pry her free from the force of the drain, but it was to no avail. She had drowned. This tragedy occurred at a graduation party that was well supervised by scores of adults.

“We were absolutely devastated. Graeme was an angel on loan to us for seven years,” said Mr. Baker. “Before it happened I didn’t think it was possible that a child could be entrapped in the drain of a spa. I’m here to say it is possible, but it is absolutely preventable with the installation of safeguards as well as awareness by parents and pool owners.”

Secretary Baker spoke publicly for the first time about his granddaughter at the National Safe Kids Week kick-off event at the U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool. “We hope Graeme’s story and the passage of this new legislation will help save lives.”

The proposed legislation to be introduced by U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is modeled after a law, enacted in 2000, which she sponsored as a state legislator in her home state of Florida. It would provide incentive grants for states that make pool and spa safety devices mandatory – such as drain covers that comply with Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines, safety vacuum release systems, multiple drains and four-sided fences. At least four states have laws addressing barrier requirements for residential swimming pools, and currently no state has enacted a comprehensive safety law, incorporating all layers of protection, for both residential and public pools and spas.

Entrapment occurs when part of a child’s body becomes attached to a drain because of the powerful suction of a pool or spa’s filtration system. It also can occur when a child’s hair or swimsuit gets tangled in the drain or on an underwater object, such as a ladder.

From 1985 to 2004, records show that at least 33 children ages 14 and under died as a result of pool and spa entrapment, and nearly 100 children were seriously injured. But according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Safe Kids Worldwide, the number of entrapment deaths could be much higher than reported. Because entrapment is generally a little-known risk for drowning, it is possible that many drowning deaths have not been classified as entrapment.

“If the safeguards proposed in the legislation had been in place, Graeme’s death may have been prevented,” said Nancy Baker, Graeme’s mother. “Entrapment is a very real danger for children in swimming pools and spas. State laws must mandate the layers of protection that have been proven to save lives.”

New research conducted for National Safe Kids Week (May 6 to 13) shows only one third (34 percent) of parents with children aged 14 or under in the household recognize that drowning is one of the top two causes of accidental death among children, and that 66 percent are not at all or only somewhat familiar with the threat of drain entrapment and entanglement. Both of these findings are alarming because research reveals that pool and spa ownership is becoming more popular. One out of two parents report that they have a pool or spa at home (49 percent).

This research from Safe Kids Worldwide and sponsored by Johnson & Johnson tells a grim story of parents’ lack of understanding of the dangers of pool and spa drains. The research also suggests parents’ confidence in their children’s safety while swimming may be higher than their children’s abilities in the swimming pool, leaving children exposed to unnecessary risks.

"A child is no match for the powerful suction of a drain," said Martin Eichelberger, M.D., president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide and director of Emergency and Burn Services at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. "The dangers of the drain can easily be mitigated with the right equipment. Parents should warn their children to stay away from drains and install safety devices if they own a pool or spa."

National Safe Kids Week has been held annually for 13 years. This year’s theme is Safe Pools for Safe Kids and more than 300 Safe Kids Week events will take place across the nation to educate parents and pool owners about how to keep kids safe from drowning.

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