I first started writing about the dangers of shallow water blackout in 1983, in my book Sport Scuba Diving In Depth (Princeton Book Co.).
In the mid- 1990s, I began to publish articles specifically instructing lifeguards and facility managers to stop dangerous breath-holding, underwater swimming and hypoxic training.
In 2008, I produced a half-hour video called “Shallow Water Blackout,” with financial help from insurance companies and other concerned contributors.
But after nearly 30 years of focusing my efforts on shallow water blackout prevention, I have failed miserably.
Shallow water blackout deaths continue to occur at an alarming rate to young, athletic and highly motivated individuals.
Far too many shallow water blackout deaths get swept under the rug, and it goes under-reported because, for the most part, coroners have never heard of shallow water blackout and simply list “drowning” on the death certificate. It’s extremely difficult to quantify exactly how many SWB deaths are occurring when coroners routinely cite “drowning” as the cause of death for good swimmers who die suddenly.
But perhaps the sad and sudden death of Gene “Whitner” Milner, 25, from Atlanta will make a difference, thanks to his mother. Rhonda Milner, a physician who also never heard of shallow water blackout, lost her son in her own backyard pool, doing an activity he loved. The coroner who pronounced her son dead likewise had never heard of shallow water blackout.
At long last, aquatics has a voice, an advocate, a mother who does not want her son’s sudden, shocking death to be in vain. How will Rhonda’s efforts be different and effective? In the few months immediately following Whitner’s death, she started a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation in honor of her son: ShallowWaterBlackoutPrevention.org. In addition to providing education and warnings about shallow water blackout, she hopes to profile many of the victims whose lives were cut short by this insidious death.
Let’s assist Rhonda Milner in any way we can. We need to encourage families of victims to contact her so she can profile them on her Website. Once we can clearly illustrate the scores of healthy, talented young people killing themselves unwittingly in our swimming pools, we can better educate, warn and change behavior to prevent these deaths. Aquatics International has agreed to help us in this endeavor. Will you help, too?
What else can be done to prevent these untimely and unnecessary SWB deaths? First and foremost, every swimming pool in America must warn its guests and members that breath-holding in the water is deadly dangerous. Second, we must ban extended breath-holding in pools throughout the country.
Let's not lose another person in the prime of their life to “drowning,” especially after teaching them how to swim at an early age!