On June 15, 2002, Virginia Graeme Baker (fondly known to her friends and family as Graeme), granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker, went with her mother, Nancy, and four sisters to a family friend’s home for a graduation party. It was held outdoors, and the focal point was the swimming pool and hot tub.
Graeme had worn her swimsuit to the party and jumped into the pool as soon as they arrived. A short time later, Graeme’s older sister ran to their mother and said that Graeme was under water in the hot tub and would not come up. Nancy ran to the hot tub, but could not see her child due to the bubbles obscuring the surface and the dark water.
Nancy jumped into the hot tub and discovered the horrific sight of her daughter’s unconscious body on the bottom. The memory of seeing Graeme’s body, moving only by the current created from the whirlpool, haunts Nancy daily.
Nancy desperately tried to pull her daughter out, but she couldn’t move her, and she couldn’t understand why she couldn’t bring her up to the surface. Two adult men at the party came and helped, finally managing to free Graeme and pulling so hard the drain cover broke in the process. Lifesaving efforts were immediately performed on the little girl, but she couldn’t be revived. She was flown to Fairfax Hospital in Virginia and pronounced dead. Even at that time, her mother still did not understand what circumstances had led to her child drowning.
Seven-year-old Graeme was a member of the community swim and diving team and had been swimming unassisted since she was 3 years old — but her death is listed as a drowning. In fact, she drowned by entrapment, pinned under water by hundreds of pounds of suction force at the drain of the hot tub.
Nancy struggled with understanding how the death had happened – Graeme was a strong swimmer, it just didn’t make sense. What Nancy learned has given her the resolve to ensure her daughter’s death was not in vain.
The preventability of Graeme’s death makes the loss more difficult and infuriating for Nancy to accept, and it is the major motivating factor in her work with Safe Kids Worldwide.
Nancy has mobilized other parents to lobby for federal advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill and in government agencies. Her efforts include testifying before the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2004 to discuss the need for SVRS in pools and hot tubs. She has also told her story through nationwide media outlets, including Pool & Whirlpool News and NBC 4 in Washington, D.C. Nancy has made pool and hot tub entrapment a nationally recognized problem. She is working to ensure that mandatory standards replace the voluntary standards that were in place when her child died but implemented in the building and servicing of pools and hot tubs in a haphazard and random fashion. This, she believes, has resulted in confusion within the industry, a lack of understanding of the danger and the solutions available to pool and hot tub owners, and ultimately tragic deaths and injuries.
The industry has suggested that it is the responsibility of homeowners to protect against entrapment. Given the lack of public awareness of the danger coupled with a lack of understanding of available solutions by consumers and pool professionals alike, Nancy feels it is a grave risk to assume that pool owners can, or will, protect children from drowning by entrapment.
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