Staying afloat this summer

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by Luyanda Majija    A 25-year-old male died in a drowning incident in Emfuleni last weekend. The deceased was allegedly intoxicated at a social gathering when he fell into the Vaal River during an argument with his girlfriend. Responding ALS paramedic, John Ramcharan, said the deceased drowned after he fell into the river. He was unable to regain control of his body as a result of the alcohol he consumed. Drowning season has kicked off in South Africa and typically runs from October to February. During this summer holiday period there are more people frequenting the beaches and pools to entertain themselves. However, what can start off as a fun activity could potentially lead to drowning. ER24’s records show that there were 116 drowning incidents during the 2012/2013 drowning season in South Africa. However, this figure does not show the number of deaths that occurred as a result. Since the 2008-2009 drowning season, incidents have increased by an alarming 52 percent.

Infographic illustrating the number of drownings reported by ER24 medics since 2008.
Infographic illustrating the number of drownings reported by ER24 medics since 2008.
                            Ramcharan advises that people be extra vigilant around water, a preventative theory that ER24 trainer, David da Silva also believes is important. “Preventative methods such as pool fencing and netting are necessary especially where children are involved,” said Da Silva. During Da Silva’s decades of emergency service, he has found that bystanders play crucial roles in saving a drowned patient’s life. “It is very rare to arrive at a scene and find that an unattended patient has survived without assistance from a bystander,” explained Da Silva. He continued to say that a bystander performing basic CPR on a patient could buy them enough time until emergency personnel arrive at the scene. Da Silva added that another danger with drowning was its silent nature. “Drowning does not look like a scene on a Baywatch episode, it is silent … an individual could drown at a loud pool party and nobody would notice.” In many instances, victims don’t wave their arms or yell for help while they are drowning. American lifeguard, Francesco Pia, calls this phenomenon the Instinctive Drowning Response which victims use to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. The response is charaterised as a silent and unnoticeable trauma.   Click on video to watch an example of an instinctive drowning response: ER24 doctor, Nombina Habangana highlighted that drowning was common in children aged four and below. Adults aged 15 to 25 are also at increased risk. “Babies under the age of one year most often drown in bathtubs,” Habangana said. Albeit the case, adults are more likely to drown as a result of neck fractures obtained while diving. Habangana added that physiological events experienced while in water such as seizures, heart attacks and hypoglycaemia may lead to drowning. The body undergoes several processes when drowning which don’t necessarily include fluid entering one’s lungs according to Habangana. “After an initial gasp of air, one holds their breath causing severe laryngeal spasms, as a result no oxygen can enter the lungs or reach the bloodstream limiting normal cellular functioning.” Depleted oxygen levels can lead to heart attacks and compromise brain function.   Click on video to view lung inhalation process, when drowning water may enter lungs in a similar fashion: The human body loves being outdoors to soak in some sun while enjoying the soothing nature of water. And although the ER24 family is on standby to attend to any drowning emergencies, people are encouraged to follow all the necessary precautions when they are anywhere near water.     Related articles: Drowning and Children: Boy drowns in Western Cape: Seven year old drowns: Toddler drowns and dies: The stages of drowning: hyperlink: Drowning doesn’t look like drowning: hyperlink: Unintentional drowning in urban South Africa:  

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