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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jack MacMillan dies from Shallow Water Blackout

Jack MacMillan

I've never heard of it before, kids drowning in their backyard pools because they held their breath too long.  Jack MacMillan 12, died earlier this year and his shattered parents are speaking out to warn other parents what can happen.  Because Jack liked to challenge himself to see how long he could hold his breath underwater, he drowned.

Basically, when a swimmer faints, carbon dioxide levels don't increase enough to trigger the urgent need to breathe and their lungs quickly fill with water and death follows, much quicker than the usual form of drowning.

They know more about it in America, where it affects competitive swimmers, Navy Seals, snorkelers, spear fishermen or anyone who free dives. And it happens without any warning and because of the hypoxia, the swimmer can feel eurphoric and empowered to keep going.

Unlike regular drowning where it take 6-8 minutes before brain damage and death occurs, with SWB, it only takes two and a half minutes. That's why it's vital that parents know what can happen and be on hand to pull the child out of the pool immediately.

Ms MacMillan said her son was doing what countless other children do every day, underwater laps, challenging himself to hold his breath for longer and longer periods.  "He thought it was great, it  was something he'd been doing over the Christmas holidays with friends and family in the pool.  I looked back and saw him at the bottom of the shallow end, his knees were bent up in the foetal position and I thought, is he playing?"

Every parent that Ms MacMillan spoke to after Jack's death had never heard of SWB.

Justin Scarr from Life Saving Australia says there have only been five reported cases of SWB in the past 10 years, but he suspects many go unreported.  If the drowning isn't witnessed by anyone, the Coroner may be reluctant to say that SWB was the cause.

So how to prevent it?
  • Discourage your children from practicing underwater laps 
  • Never let them swim alone 
  • If they must, remember the golden rule ONE BREATH HOLD, ONE TIME, ONE LAP ONLY
  •  Never hyperventilate