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Noraiz Shaik was on a visit to Dubai when he underwent the harrowing near-drowning experience. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Last month, an 18-month-old boy fell unconscious after a near-drowning accident in a Dubai residential building’s swimming pool.

In view of World Drowning Prevention Day observed on July 25, Gulf News spoke to his father about how the child was rescued, a doctor, who treated him later at a hospital, and an emergency medicine specialist to explain the measures to be taken to prevent drowning incidents and to rescue a near-drowning victim until medical help arrives. Near-drowning happens when a person is unable to breathe due to extended submersion in water.

Before we delve into the safety tips provided by the medical experts to help revive a victim, here is what happened to the 18-month-old boy, Noraiz Shaik, who underwent the traumatic near-drowning experience.

Allah Baksh Shaik, the father of Noraiz, had brought over his wife Nilofar Shaik and their only child to Dubai for their first visit to the UAE. A cleaning employee, Allah Baksh had rented an apartment in a residential building in Bur Dubai for their two-month stay.

On that fateful day, Baksh decided to take Noraiz to the swimming pool in the building “for playing in the water.”

“I don’t know how to swim. But I have cleaned pools and I know there are steps before you get into the deeper side of the pool. My intention was to play with him in the water while standing on the steps,” the 31-year-old Indian expat told Gulf News.

However, he said the pool in the building had fewer steps than he expected. “I didn’t realise the steps got over soon and I slipped into the pool which was deeper than I thought,” recalled Allah Baksh.

drowning prevention
A combo image showing measures to be taken to rescue a near-drowning victim until medical help arrives. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Harrowing experience

Explaining the harrowing experience that followed, he said: “I was holding my baby above the water when I slipped. As I realised I was going down, I quickly caught hold of his hand and threw him back to where the water was shallow while I struggled to balance. But he came back floating towards my feet and I couldn’t see him after that.”

As both the father and the child struggled in the water, the mother, who was standing nearby, witnessed the terrifying scene unfold before her eyes. Overwhelmed by panic, she dived into the pool despite not knowing how to swim, desperately attempting to rescue her loved ones.

Children and adolescents should never be allowed to swim alone regardless of their swimming abilities.

- Dr Nisha Ravindran, paediatrics and neonatology specialist

Baksh said both of them somehow got out of the water. He then used the lifebuoy ring kept on the poolside and got into the water again to search for his son who was completely submerged by then. “It was of no use. I couldn’t go down to the deep side of the pool to look for him.”

With no one else around at that time, the distressed father rushed back to the building, frantically banging on doors, seeking help. “Luckily, one Indian man came to our rescue. He dived into the pool and pulled my son out.”

Brave mum gives CPR

However, little Noraiz had become unconscious by then. He was motionless and had an inflated stomach.

“Suddenly, my wife started pressing on his chest so hard. I didn’t know what she was doing. I could see water coming out of his eyes and food coming out of his mouth. I got worried and I yelled at my wife.” He said it was later that he realised that his wife, who had briefly worked as an assistant nurse back home, was, in fact, administering CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to revive their child.

When Nilofar understood that her child had started breathing again, the couple spared no time in rushing him to the hospital. “Honestly, we couldn’t think straight in that chaos. I probably assumed it would take time for the ambulance to reach. I grabbed my son and ran out of the building. A Filipina lady, who was passing by, stopped her car and took us to the nearest hospital.”

When Noraiz arrived at Aster Hospital, Al Mankhool, he was unresponsive, cold and was not breathing well, said paediatrics and neonatology specialist Dr Nisha Ravindran, who was the MRP (most responsible physician leading a team) in the case.

“He was given immediate treatment. He was warmed, given artificial breath and put on a ventilator. Soon, he started to throw a seizure and his BP started to fall. He was managed with IV fluid, medicines to maintain his blood pressure and anti-seizure medications along with other supportive treatment. He remained on a ventilator for a day and showed consistent improvement. His consciousness improved, BP normalised and seizure stopped. He was taken off the ventilator the next day and continued on oxygen support for another two days till he returned to normalcy. He was discharged in a healthy condition in five days.”

Drowning is a preventable tragedy: Swimming skills, lack of adult supervision, and absence of pool barriers arr domr the factors that contribute to the drowning risk among children and adolescents.

Preventable tragedy

Drowning rate is consistently high in one to four-year-old children, said Dr Nisha. “Childhood drowning is a preventable tragedy that demands attention and action. As a society, we must work together to raise awareness about water safety and implement effective preventive measures. Parents, caregivers and communities play a crucial role in safeguarding our children from the dangers of drowning. By prioritising supervision, education and the implementation of safety measures, we can significantly reduce the number of drowning incidents,” she pointed out.

Dr Nisha enlisted lack of swimming skills, lack of adult supervision, and absence of pool barriers as the factors that contribute to the drowning risk among children and adolescents.

Highlighting the importance of drowning awareness and prevention, she said: “Children and adolescents should never be allowed to swim alone regardless of their swimming abilities. Supervision of children means that a responsible adult, preferably who knows how to swim, should be with the child at all times. Even a brief lapse of attention, like attending mobile phones or having another conversation, etc., can have catastrophic consequences.”

She said we can prevent drowning by taking measures such as: a) Educating adults and children about relevant safety procedures. b) Providing basic swimming lessons at an early age c) Fencing the pool, to prevent accidental fall-offs. d) Usage of life jackets when entering water bodies e) Proper supervision while the child does swimming

When and how to give CPR

But what to do when a near-drowning incident takes place?

Dr Mouhammad Ekbal Alkalaf, Head of ER at Medcare Hospital Al Safa, explained that a victim of a near-drowning incident should be first pulled out of the water with whatever means available.

“If people nearby cannot swim, they can at least try using floaties or long towels, which are usually available on the poolside, to help the person get out of the water.”

However, it is also important to provide first aid once the near-drowning person has been brought out of the water in an unconscious stage.

“Most importantly, you must first call for an ambulance to get medical help. If the person is breathing and has a pulse, you can put the person on his left side to let the aspirated water come out. This will also prevent choking,” he said, as he demonstrated the method with the help of a volunteer, Keshav Chaudhary, who posed as the near-drowning victim.

In the second scenario, when the person does not breathe and has no pulse, a person trained in CPR must immediately administer it, said Dr Mouhammad.

Explaining how to provide rescue breathing and chest compressions, he advised rescuers to deliver two rescue breaths first, and then begin the cycles of compressions and breaths.

For chest compressions, rescuers should place the heel of one hand on the centre of the person’s chest, then place the palm of the other hand on top and press down.

“The depth of the compression should be at least two inches. After every 30 chest compressions, give two rescue breaths [administered mouth-to-mouth].”

This cycle should continue until an ambulance arrives or the patient becomes steady.

Why Day for Drowning Prevention?

Declared in April 2021 by the UN General Assembly, World Drowning Prevention Day serves as an opportunity to highlight the tragic and profound impact of drowning on families and communities and to offer life-saving solutions to prevent it.

Every year, an estimated 236,000 people drown, making drowning a major public health problem worldwide. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death globally for children and young people aged 1-24 years. It is also the third leading cause of unintentional injury death, accounting for seven per cent of all injury-related deaths.

According to data released by the WHO, drowning has caused over 2.5 million deaths in the last decade. The overwhelming majority of these deaths, 90 per cent, happen in low- and middle-income countries. Globally, the highest drowning rates occur among children aged 1–4 years, followed by children aged 5–9 years.

The human, social, and economic toll of these losses is intolerably high and entirely preventable, WAM quoted the WHO as saying ahead of World Drowning Prevention Day.

All stakeholders – governments, UN agencies, civil society organisations, the private sector, academia and individuals – are invited to mark World Drowning Prevention Day by highlighting the need for urgent, coordinated and multi-sectoral action on proven measures such as:

• installing barriers controlling access to water;

• providing safe places away from water such as crèches for preschool children with capable childcare;

• teaching swimming, water safety and safe rescue skills;

• training bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation;

• setting and enforcing safe boating, shipping and ferry regulations;

• improving flood risk management.