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Son's near drowning inspires activism

After their 5-year-old nearly drowns, a Tampa couple warn other parents about the potential pitfalls of backyard pools.

By LOGAN D. MABE

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001


TAMPA -- For Noble Charles, the really scary thing was that his 5-year-old son nearly drowned right before his eyes.

It's a story they hope will scare other parents into doing something about the dangers of backyard pools.

Charles was sitting on the edge of the pool at his Tampa Palms home Saturday afternoon while son Malcolm was doing little flips in the water. Sitting in a patio chair nearby was his wife, Sandra. The two were talking about an upcoming party when Charles told Malcolm it was time to get out of the water.

"He didn't respond," said Charles, who had Malcolm in his peripheral vision the whole time "It was the most horrible thing I ever saw. He was lifeless. ... You hear stories about parents who walk away, but we were right here."

Two quick steps later, Charles was upon his child, pulling him from the water. He immediately began CPR while Mrs. Charles ran to call 911.

"It's just the most horrible, most horrible thing a parent can face," Mrs. Charles said. Malcolm's color had faded to gray and there was a red gash of blood on his lower lip. "Noble had to remind me that I know CPR," she said.

Malcolm came through the ordeal fine. After a night of observation at University Community Hospital, his parents said, doctors gave him a clean bill of health.

Despite their best efforts -- Malcolm was wearing a child's life vest and both parents were supervising his swimming -- the Charleses were stunned by the swiftness with which the near-tragedy struck.

Afterward, Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Bill Wade told Charles something he'd never realized. "Drowning is very quiet," Charles said.

Charles, a manager at MetLife, and his wife shared their story Wednesday to try to increase parents' awareness of the pitfalls of a backyard pool, and to encourage them to take CPR classes.

A little more than two years ago, Mrs. Charles, a research program coordinator, took a CPR class offered by her employer. If she had not known what to do, "I don't think Malcolm would be here," she said. "The doctors said Malcolm wouldn't be here. We were told explicitly that CPR saved his life.

"I think what's scary was that we were here, right here. We didn't go inside for a minute. There is no question that it can happen, that it did happen."

Florida residents and visitors suffer from more drownings than anywhere else in the nation, Wade said. Drowning remains the leading accidental cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 with most of those occurring in family pools.

In Pinellas, paramedics will make house calls to conduct a life saving survey as part of its water safety program. To schedule an appointment, call (727) 582-2074.

On April 28, the American Heart Association is sponsoring free CPR classes at hundreds of sites around the United States.

At the hospital, Charles told his wife that, with the swimming season about to get into high gear, he did not want other parents to go through what they had experienced.

"We're lucky," Charles said. "Really lucky. I thank God for this."

CPR classes

The American Heart Association is sponsoring free CPR classes on April 28 at Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus at 4001 Tampa Bay Blvd. The two-hour classes will be from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. For information or to register, call (877) 242-4277 or go to www.americanheart.org and click on "Learn CPR."

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