On Saturday, June 6, 2016, just a few weeks following Abby Grace’s Hope’s first anniversary of existence, over 150 participants arrived on the campus of Florida Polytechnic University. In what began just a little over a year ago of hope to fund 3 children’s survival swim instruction, over 15 children swam over the summer of 2014 across Polk County and into surrounding counties across Central Florida. We’re amazed and completely overwhelmed to have had the honor of distributing more than double this amount of scholarships this past Saturday for the Summer of 2015!
In just five years, Florida has lost enough children to fill half of an elementary school. This number is absolutely staggering and heartbreaking, especially when you realize just how previous each and every one of these children are. In just a short year, our family has been touched with two such children, right here at home. We were honored to be joined by the Watson/Raulerson and Maycumber Families. Each of these families have suffered the most devastating outcome of a drowning, in complete loss and as close as we came with Abby, we know, we could in no way understand what these families have and continue to go through in their losses. These children are precious to us and certainly live on in the missions of our family and AGH. As part of the days events a special tribute was made as participants joined together in remembrance of Travis Maycumber and Raylee Watson, as we sent a whole lot of love their way! (In the days leading up to this event, my son Jacob was with me as I was putting together the final details for the balloon release. At one point, he asked “Mommy, do you think these balloons will make to heaven” and I responded: “I’m not sure they’ll make it all the way to heaven, but we know without a doubt these precious ones will see and feel the love and will be overjoyed as those balloons head their way!!” And with that – they were off. These precious babies made their presence well known in a special picture captured by Officer Danny Houser of the Polytechnic Campus Police! Join us in keeping these families and so many more across the state and nation in your thoughts and prayers!
It’s was a true honor to attend this event in the midst of so many incredible folks, from AGH team members, local swim instructors to incredible supporters and equally important- the families who acknowledge the very real dangers of water and have gone above and beyond to insure children remain safe in and around water!
This event took place on the absolutely beautiful campus of Florida Polytechnic University through support and partnerships with Florida Poly and the Florida Poly Police Department. We are so incredibly grateful not only for their support of our mission, but their wonderful hospitality while hosting us in such an amazing venue!! We also thank our amazing sponsors and supporters including Nick with Florida Emergency Vehicle Equipment and Repair, Anytime Fitness, the Givewell Community Foundation, Stew Leonard III Children Charities, Sweet Magnolias Tea & Bistro, Bethany May Photography, Browns Stucco, Peebles BBQ, IBEW Local 222, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 46, Bryce’s Buddies - Juvenile Diabetes Foundation/ Winging' It Festival, Travis Maycumber Memorial, Winter Haven Aquatics, Central Florida Pest Management, Robert Peet Roofing, and so many more! A special thanks goes out to Dennis Warren, sergeant with the PCSO who raised over $3,000 towards the Swim Scholarship fund with a challenge of lifting 40,000 pounds within 4 hours and swept right past that goal by lifting over 70,000 pounds!!! HUGE thanks to Dennis and his many supporters inside the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and out for the incredible support! We also thank Denise who is donating her instruction time for a handful of scholarship recipients.
Ramon Gonzalez from Polk Fire Rescue for volunteering his translating services for the event and to the AGH Team who works so passionately to keep Abby Graces Hope afloat and building steam in the mission against childhood drowning!
Thank you to each and every supporter – without you, our missions are nothing but hopes and dreams – you help make them a reality and are paving the way to many more Lives Saved, One Child at a Time!
While the funds in our scholarship account have now been allocated, the requests keep coming in. AGH will continue to fund scholarships throughout the summer with additional funds that come in. If you’d like to help (truly, any amount makes a BIG difference), you can donate via pay-pal here or e-mail AbbyGracesHope@gmail.com for our sponsorship details.
Drownings, are at risk of upward trends. There are a number of reasons and theories behind this, which include increased distractions, increased exposure to water sources, etc., but one factor the majority of the population may not be aware of is the increase in drowning risk due to Autism and related disorders.
According to a March, 2014 CDC report, 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) were identified as having autism in the United States. The prevalence Autism is widespread and chances are you know or will soon come in contact with someone impacted by this disorder.
So What is Autism and What is the Connection with Drownings?
"Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong neurological disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate, understand language, play, and socially interact with others. The first signs of ASD usually appear as developmental delays before the age of three and while no two cases of Autism are identical, signs can include difficulty in using and understanding language, difficulty in using social skills and navigating social situations, over or under sensitivity to sound, sight, taste, touch, or smell, repetitive behaviors such as spinning or lining up objects, difficulty with changes to surroundings or routines and challenging behaviors such as aggression or self-injury." USF CARD
Similar to wandering behaviors in seniors with Dementia or Alzheimer’s, children with Autism are prone to wandering away from a safe environment. In additional and for a reason experts are unable to explain at this time, individuals with ASD show an increased fascination with water, this fascination does not diminish with age.
Unfortunately, accidental drowning claims 90% of lives of lethal ASD wandering cases.
The leading cause of death in all ASD individuals 14 and younger is accidental drowning at a staggering 91%.
We encourage you to please visit the University of South Florida’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders website to learn more about what you can do to lower the risk of drowning for every child, and especially those with ASD. USF CARD not only has a wonderful water safety program supporting 14 counties centered around Tampa, FL, but also assist families in these areas with children on the spectrum in a number of ways from home visits, resources and education.
For our families impacted by ASD outside of USF CARD's support area, fear not! Many CARD support organizations are scattered thorough the state and possible further. You can either contact USF CARD for a suggestion or simply search yourself on the web.
University of South Florida - Center for Autism and Related Disorders Website
Two years from the day our lives would change forever. The day our biggest fear became reality as we held our precious baby girl lifeless in our hands; in complete shock of the accident that happened so fast and in complete silence. There’s a lot of very difficult emotions that continue to be a struggle at times; but there’s one moment of light and an undoubtable presence that has followed us from that day and is the very reason Abby Grace’s Hope was founded. As my husband and brother in-law performed CPR on Abby’s swollen, blue and pulseless little body, I could feel the chances of her survival slipping quickly from our reach as each rep was completed to no avail. I can honestly tell you without a doubt that Abby should not be here today. You see, I witnessed a drowning incident at a very early age, the same exact scene of that accident exactly matched Abby’s scene. I knew the signs, I knew the outcome - all I could do was pray for the Lord’s helping hand and grace in our situation. “Please, God - please help our baby girl, for whatever reason this happened, I’m at your mercy - please help her”.
It was not more than a minute into that prayer that Abby started attempting very very struggled breaths. I can’t even begin to explain the enormous emotion in watching her take those breaths, realizing what just happened, the possibility that she may survive this after all, followed by the fear of what her long-term outcome would be and at the same time, not even caring as long as she was still with us.
She was life-flighted and admitted to PICU, Abby regained her ability to breath on her own, but she was still unable to control her muscles (was totally limp) and while I know she recognized me as she would calm when I laid with her and held her, when I looked into her eyes - there was nothing there. I’ll never forget the doctor that walked in, clearly upset by her accident, looking me dead in the eye and telling me as I held my baby that "we got ‘lucky’, this accident was 100% preventable”. (I do hope to run across that doctor again soon, especially with all I’ve learned over the past few years in water safety and drowning prevention). You see, I have learned something some to realize: Drowning will never be 100% preventable, just as vehicle accidents will never be 100% preventable. When we get into a vehicle, we realize the risk of an accident - because we understand they are not always preventable, for that reason, we wear a seatbelt, we use caution, etc. For that same reason, we should understand that drowning is a very real possibility - it’s not always preventable (especially as long as human error exists) and we should all be taking every step possible to protect our families through multiple levels of protection, regardless of if you have a pool in your backyard (specific supervision, alarms, barriers, swim lessons and CPR skills). Abby is still here and made a miraculous recovery because one of those layers of protection worked (CPR Saves Lives!) and by the very Grace of God himself. (Huge gratitude as always also goes to her heroes on the scene and those who cared for her in the hospital!).
I truly believe Abby’s accident happened for a reason, her life holds great purpose and soon we would find ourselves flooded with drowning news/reports and community needs in the year following that event, we were floored by the knowledge of how large of a problem drowning is and so many areas that needed improvement to prevent other families from enduring what we had. Sometimes the Lord leads you, other times it’s a giant push and without any idea of running a non-profit or what impact we could have, my husband and I took a giant leap and founded AGH on May of 2014. Together with an incredible team, our very first order of business was raising funds for Survival Swim Scholarships for children in our community and within just a few short months after founding AGH, 14 children hit the pools around Polk County and Tampa to receive these lessons at no cost to them. This was just the beginning as the organization continues to move in ways we could have never expected.
Due to such continual, gracious and overwhelming support from our community, we are beyond excited to be offering our 2nd season of Swim Vouchers, the application is live on March 1st, 2015 and will run through April, 2015! *** If you or someone you know has or cares for young children - would you please share this story with them and encourage them to visit our website at www.WaterSafetyandSurvival.org to learn about all the layers of protection, and to submit an application for an AGH Survival Swim Scholarship if the reside in or around Polk County, FL and have the need? And for everyone else, would you please help support our mission by considering a donation of any amount or simply by sharing this awareness of water safety and need of support with others? We are completely reliant on community support and with your help, we’ll continue to make great strides in water safety and drowning prevention - “Saving Lives, One Child at a Time”. ~ Thank you in advance for your time and support! Rachel (Abby’s Mommy)
When we hear about water accidents, we often only hear about heartbreaking stories of deaths from drowning, as if that wasn’t enough, did you know for every one child that losses his/her life to a drowning incident, another 5 children suffer a near drowning (or in Abby’s case, a nonfatal drowning) resulting in long-term health consequences?
Our little Abby is currently facing challenges of developmental delays, seizures and memory related issues; her doctors suspect her near drowning may be a contributing factor. Tomorrow, we are checking in at All Children’s for an MRI of her brain to rule out a number of issues. We pray that her MRI and other various labs comes back clear. The summer is full of ongoing testing while we do everything possible to support Abby’s ability to catch up with her peers before she starts Kindergarten. This is incredibly difficult for our family, as we’d love to just tell everyone that she suffered a drowning and she came out perfect, but the reality is that the degree of her drowning event rarely ends in survival and even more rarely a perfect recovery with no longterm issues. What’s wonderful is Abby’s endless energy and happiness that fills any room she’s in. Regardless of any challenges she’s facing, she carries on, singing and dancing – “She Loves Being a Princess” and she’ll tell you that quit regularly in a song she loves to sing. We know that the Lord has his hands around her, and regardless of the results of all the summer long testing – he will continue to carry her and our family through this.
As a mom who realizes first hand just how easy and detrimental water accidents can be, even while we go through this as a family - - it’s important that we share the truth with other families. Please be sure to read up on summer water safety tips (we’ll be posting a flyer in the next few days on our website and social media sites), and be sure your babies are equipped with Survival Swim and you’re equipped with CPR training. (We’ll also be posting a link to the Polk Fire Rescue site, which has some wonderful resources for drowning prevention).
Rachel Warren publishes the majority of Blog postings for AGH, is a strong advocate for water safety and related injury prevention working tirelessly at the county and state levels to strengthen and improve water safety campaigns, initiatives and promote these campaigns through community outreach programs of AGH.