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A Mom's Summer Nightmare

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Nancy Baker lost her daughter to a faulty pool drain, then changed the laws to protect other kids.

After her 7-year-old daughter died tragically after being entrapped by a pool drain, Nancy Baker took action. She got a bill passed on Capitol Hill to protect other kids from faulty pool drains, and was on the Today show this week to talk about it.

Momlogic spoke with Nancy for more details of her triumph over tragedy.

momlogic: How did you get involved in fighting for pool safety legislation?

Nancy: On June 15th, 2002, we were at a pool party with friends when my 11-year-old ran toward me with a look of horror and told me my 7-year-old, Graeme, was in the hot tub. She grabbed my hand and we ran. I jumped in and couldn't see her. It was a dark black-bottom pool and it was bubbling, so I couldn't see below the surface. I put my head under water and I saw her, I started pulling at her and I couldn't get her off the bottom. I didn't know what was holding her. A hundred things went through my mind. I came up screaming and went back down. I repeated this a few times.

I jumped out and was shrieking at all the people around, and they had no clue what was going on because they couldn't see her either. Others jumped in and two adults eventually pulled her out. The force cracked the flat plastic drain cover, and the people indicated she was going to be OK. I collapsed on the grass and I could see them rolling her from side to side. The paramedics arrived and she was flown by helicopter to the hospital. I was driven straight there and when I arrived, I learned my 7-year-old daughter passed away.

momlogic: As a mother who has lost a child, how did you manage to turn your grief into action?

Nancy: I think initially my strength came from not wanting to see my other children lose their appreciation for life. A mother is an important source of strength, so I just felt like I had to give that to my surviving children and not lose myself in my own grief.

Then I began to read about what really happened to Graeme. I searched on the Internet and learned other children had passed away from entrapment. I looked at the Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site and saw there were some things that could prevent entrapments from happening. I knew I had to do something because it all seemed unbelievable that there were voluntary things you could do. Why wouldn't they be mandatory?

momlogic: Was your father-in-law, former Secretary of State James A. Baker, able to help you in your efforts?

Nancy: When this occurred, he was in London and returned immediately. He was devastated. A few days after Graeme passed away he looked at me and said, "Do something. This never should have happened, and I will help you."

As time went on, I found out the CPSC was holding hearings around the country on pool safety. I recognized entrapment was not on people's radar and thought it would be a good opportunity to bring attention to it. So I wrote testimony about what had happened to my daughter. I testified in front of the CPSC and delivered Graeme's story.

momlogic: What legislation was passed?

Nancy: The organization Safe Kids Worldwide is a non-profit dedicated to preventing childhood injury and death. It was founded by a pediatric surgeon. Safe Kids was an enormous help to me because they essentially told me how I actually could participate in the process, and how I could be effective in promoting the idea of national legislation around pool safety.

I met with many U.S. representatives as a parent advocate for pool safety. I had to keep my strength in order to continue telling the story of what happened. Sometimes I burst into tears, but I knew I had to keep going to help get this bill passed.

The bill is called "The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act," and it provides incentives to states that adopt laws saying there will be no more pools or spas with certain drain covers, or that anti-entrapment drain covers must always be used.

momlogic: What was your reaction when you heard about what happened to Abigail Taylor, the girl who was disemboweled by a pool drain last year and then later died months later?

Nancy: My reaction was anger. Why does this process take so long to make change? I remember sitting in offices thinking eventually the problem was going to be taken care of, but I knew it was going to take more lives.

My heart broke when I read about Abigail. I spoke with her mother about a week after it happened. I know her mom never thought she'd really lose her because she initially survived the accident. When I heard she passed away, I had terrible grief for them, for me, for Graeme, for the family in Connecticut that went through this last year. When you hear about this, you get plunged back into it. For Abigail's family, I feel tremendous respect for their courage, hope, and for being outspoken throughout this ordeal. I have no doubt their openness helped pass this bill.

momlogic: What is your message to other moms?

Nancy: If you have a pool company that services your pool, you need to demand they provide you with the guidelines that the CPSC is issuing now. On private pools, it's not a mandate yet. The states will hopefully be adopting stricter codes, but I would make sure my pool meets those requirements because it will make it safe. Parents should teach their children to stay away from all drains or any openings on the bottom or sides of the pools. And in a hot tub, kids should never put their heads underwater under any circumstances.

Click on an image to view the In Memory of Graeme Baker Gallery

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3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Susanna May 22, 2008, 12:25 PM

God Bless these families for all they have endured and yet are able to work through their grief to help others!

Anonymous May 22, 2008, 2:03 PM

Such a sad story. What a beautiful girl. I am sending to everyone I know who has a pool.

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