Tulsa, OK,
11:02 PM

‘I Will Never Be the Same’

A mom’s journey to becoming an advocate for pool safety.

There are moments in our lives that change us forever. One of Jennifer Sollars-Miller’s moments came on a sunny day in July 2003.

She and her family had gathered to celebrate a birthday with a pool party. Jennifer, a self-proclaimed helicopter mom, was nervous about keeping track of her 5-year-old autistic son during the party. Besides being autistic, he is legally blind and in need of constant attention. To ease her mind, she invited her sister to attend and help manage her son and 2-year-old daughter, Reagan.

During the poolside fun, Jennifer stepped away to take her son to the bathroom. She asked a family member to change Reagan’s clothes. The family member thought Reagan had followed Jennifer into the house. Everyone appeared to be safe and accounted for.

They weren’t.

Jennifer remembers the next few moments in a blur.

Reagan at the bottom of the pool, tucked into a fetal position. Chaos and screaming. Someone doing CPR. Her daughter’s eyes rolled back in her head. Blue lips, not breathing. Fearing the worst when Reagan didn’t respond. The blaring siren of the ambulance. A doctor at the hospital telling them Reagan was under water for 2 to 4 minutes and would likely have brain damage if she regained consciousness. Her tiny daughter lying in a hospital bed on life support.

“You can be right there and not know someone is drowning,” Jennifer says. “There’s a misunderstanding about drowning that you would hear something, and you don’t. They can’t scream; they’re gasping for breath.”

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 300 children drown in swimming pools every year. And for every child who drowns, another five receive emergency care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

Fortunately, Reagan was in the nonfatal category. She recovered and has some eyesight and hearing issues. But she has no memory of the near-drowning.

The experience changed Jennifer. “It was a mother’s worst nightmare,” she says. “Even now I can tell the story, but I don’t like to think about it.”

But she does. Jennifer chose to share her story with other parents so they would not have to experience the same horrible situation. She is a water safety champion, speaking to numerous groups about the Water Watcher program and being an active member of Safe Kids Coalition, supported by a grant from State Farm®.

When sharing her story with a group, Jennifer struggles with the memories from that day. “I understand that I can’t keep my children safe in all situations. All I can do is my best. And my best consists of educating myself and others in regards to safety procedures, preventative measures and praying. Lots of praying,” Jennifer says.

The Water Watchers program advocates tags to be worn by the designated adult watching children in and around the pool or water. It also advocates other safety measures such as fences, alarms, life jackets and swim lessons.

“In my mind, the only way I can understand something unfathomable is to do something good with it,” she says. “I never thought it could happen to me. I learned the hard way it can happen and it only takes a few seconds.”

Pool Safety Tips

Jennifer Sollars-Miller often shares that, “No one is immune from an accident.” Active parental supervision is the most critical aspect of keeping children safe around water. Perimeter fencing, alarms and swim lessons are additional layers of protection. These tips from Jennifer and other sources offer warnings for when children are around water.

Key Prevention Tips (CDC)

  • Learn life-saving skills – Everyone should know the basics of swimming (floating, moving through the water) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

  • Fence it off – Install a four-sided isolation fence, with self-closing and self-latching gates, around backyard swimming pools. This can help keep children away from the area when they aren’t supposed to be swimming. Pool fences should completely separate the house and play area from the pool.

  • Make life jackets a must – Make sure kids wear life jackets in and around natural bodies of water, such as lakes or the ocean, even if they know how to swim. Life jackets can be used in and around pools for weaker swimmers, too.

  • Be on the look-out – When kids are in or near water (including bathtubs), closely supervise them at all times. Because drowning happens quickly and quietly, adults watching kids in or near water should avoid distracting activities like playing cards, reading books, talking on the phone and using alcohol.