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Lessons On Preventable Tragedy: This Olympic Athlete's Toddler Drowned In Their Neighbor's Pool—Here's How You Can, And Should, Protect Your Own Children

Her name was Emeline "Emmy" Miller, and she was the 19-month-old daughter of Olympic alpine skier Bode Miller and professional volleyball player Morgan Miller. Emmy died on June 10, 2018 when her body failed to respond to medical efforts to revive her consciousness after drowning in a neighbor's pool the day before.

 

 

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"We have the choice to live our days with purpose, to make sure that no other parent has to feel what we're feeling," Morgan shares in an emotional interview with Today in response to her indescribable loss.

The 31-year-old mother of three (soon to be four) young children tearfully recounts the event that has forever reshaped her life and opened her heart to a new mission: rallying for the awareness of the dangers of drowning and the importance of protecting children from the preventable tragedy.

It's been almost two months since Morgan and her husband Bode last held, kissed, and spoke to their baby girl, but the pain makes it feel as though the accident had just happened yesterday. Together, they retrace the events leading up to their daughter's drowning in the hopes of teaching other parents to be more vigilant.

 

 

How it happened

 

 

She makes Monday look good!

A post shared by Morgan Miller (@morganebeck) on

 

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It was a day just like any other. Morgan had brought her children over to her neighbor's house as she often does, with the adults chatting away and children playing in an area where grownups could keep an eye on them at all times. The house was a familiar place to Morgan who knew which places were safe for her children to explore, and where they weren't allowed to venture off to on their own.

After all the times Morgan had brought Emmy to that same house, in her mind, her daughter would always be safe.

Unfortunately, on that fateful morning in June, while Morgan was having a conversation with her neighbor, she had suddenly realized that the house had gone quiet. Her daughter's voice had gone silent. Morgan's motherly instinct immediately alerted her that something was amiss; when she checked on the children, all were still playing indoors, with the exception of one.

 

 

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Frantically looking around for where Emmy might have gone, Morgan's heart sank when she saw a sliver of light coming from the slightly opened door that led to the pool. Running outside, Morgan spotted her daughter floating in the pool, wasting no time in retrieving her body and performing emergency CPR.

The water that had flooded Emmy's chest kept pouring out of her mouth with each pump and an ambulance arrived shortly after Morgan's neighbor had called for emergency assistance.

At the hospital, Morgan and Bode were told that their daughter had a chance of making through her ordeal alive, but things simply turned for the worse in a matter of hours until Emmy eventually passed away. Her doctor explained that her brain had simply gone on for too long without oxygen and the damage to her small body was beyond repair.

And just like that, Morgan and Bode bid a forever farewell to their little Emmy.

“Guilt is a very painful thing," Morgan continues.

"And even though it's awful and living with it is terrible, and I hope and pray and beg that it gets easier, I am now much more aware in that area to make sure it doesn't ever happen again," she adds.

 

 

 

The facts on drowning

In the days following Emmy's death, Morgan channeled her grief through researching. She learned more and more about the incidences of drowning-related toddler deaths and in the process, became increasingly frustrated over the lack of conversation and guidelines about the preventable tragedy.

She cites the fact that parents and doctors talk about anything from organic food, mobile phone usage, sun protection, to lethal allergies when it comes to protecting kids, but drowning—the leading cause of unintentional deaths in kids aged 1 to 4 years old—has received little to no attention.

"It's the number one way that you could potentially lose your kid. If it's number one for me, I want to know about it,” Bode elaborates.

"I've been to all the pediatrician's meetings and check-ups on our kids. And I can't say it's come up one time. Not a single time," he emphasizes.

 

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Becoming new advocates for the prevention of drowning-related deaths in children, Morgan and Bode wish to share the following crucial information with parents:

 

  • Parents are usually only careful about the possibility of drowning in the context of swimming time, or when a child is deliberately exposed to water. The truth is, drowning can happen even when it's the farthest thing from a parent's mind, just like what happened with Emmy. They must always survey an area for a body of water that a child can accidentally fall into to be a hundred percent safe.

 

  • It can take only seconds for a child to drown.

 

  • Splashing and yelling are not reliable indicators of drowning. Sometimes, a child can be silently gulping mouthfuls of water while submerged and unable to attract attention to himself or herself, thus failing to send signals of obvious distress to adults. Again, this pushes parents to be watchful at all times. 

 

  • Lakes, oceans, and pools are not the only places that pose the threat of drowning. Bathtubs, Jacuzzis, and home spas are just as dangerous.

 

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A post shared by Bode Miller (@millerbode) on

 

 

How adults can protect children

Of course, with education about the threat of drowning comes the implementation of measures to shield children from the danger. Here are practical measures that parents can take to be able to do so for their kids:

 

  • Begin with the basics: if there is a pool in the house, never allow children to approach it unsupervised.

 

  • Put up a gated and locked fence around a pool that children will not be able to open or climb over. A chain link fence is not recommended as kids might be able to climb over it, but a gate with an automatic lock is definitely a worthy investment. On a related note, make sure to store lawn or pool furniture away from the fence so children will not be able to use them as makeshift ladders.

 

  • Secure all access areas to a pool (i.e.: locking doors and fencing off passage ways) so that children have no way to get to it unless accompanied by a guardian.

 

  • Use a sturdy pool cover. Not only does it conceal the pool (to hopefully make it less appealing to curious young minds), but it also adds a second layer of protection should a child try to jump into it, or slip.

 

 

  • Consider installing an alarm that works when a fence around a pool is opened. Activate the alarm when no adult can physically watch over a child. 

 

  • Always have a life buoy or lifesave in a pool's vicinity for accidents. 

 

  • Learn CPR. This is an essential life-saving skill that will prove helpful in most medical emergencies, with drowning at the top of those list of emergencies. All adults at home, not just parents, should learn this. 

 

  • Enroll children in swimming classes. Depending on a child's comfort level with water and emotional maturity, it will do well to expose them to swimming early on to teach them how to act should they find themselves without the company of an adult in a body of water. 

 

Today, Morgan and Bode are devoting themselves to raising awareness on the dangers of drowning. They're looking to partner with the American Academy of Pediatrics for a campaign, and in their personal lives, are expecting to welcome another child in October. 

 

Photos from @millerbode