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A family's warning about water safety

Last Modified: August 02, 2023

Safety & Prevention, Family Medicine


Parkview Health, along with the family of a young boy who survived a drowning earlier this year, is urging area residents to stay safe around water this summer and avoid a potentially life-threatening emergency.

The Hlavatys' close call 

A drowning is any incident in which a person’s breathing is impaired due to submersion in a liquid and often, but not always, results in death. Drowning is the single-leading cause of death among children ages 1-4 and a top cause of death among teens. Children can drown in as little as a few inches of water, whether that’s a bathtub or bucket, in a backyard swimming pool or at the lake.

The Hlavaty family of Roanoke experienced how quick and how frightening a drowning incident can be on Mother’s Day this year. The family hadn’t even moved into their new home yet, and were just stopping by. A hot tub had been delivered earlier, and the gate was accidentally left open. Suddenly, 3-year-old Sam was found unresponsive in the water by his older brother.

Sam’s father, James, started CPR while his mother called 911. When Parkview Huntington EMS arrived on scene, emergency responders stabilized Sam by suctioning his airway to help him expel water from his lungs. He was rushed by ambulance to the nearest trauma-level hospital and made a full recovery.

James Hlavaty said he wanted to share the story of his son’s incident as a reminder of how quickly a child can get into danger in hopes that other parents will be spared the scare of a lifetime. The family thanked God for the miracle that saved their son.

A sweet reunion

After the boy’s recovery, the Hlavaty family met up with the Parkview Huntington EMS team to thank them in person for their heroic efforts, while the youngster got the opportunity to explore and learn about the ambulance and EMTs that helped save his life.


“Without the quick thinking and response from Parkview dispatch, EMTs and other first responders who assisted, our son might not be here with us today,” James said. “Each of the first responders will forever be a hero to our family, but at the same time, we wanted to share our story in hopes that no other parent has to go through the same thing. It can happen to anyone in the blink of an eye.”


No single device or solution can fully erase the threat of drowning, but Tony GiaQuinta, MD, PPG – Pediatrics, stresses that proactive prevention is the best way to protect children.

When around water, whether large natural bodies of water or even small kids’ wading pools, children should be supervised at all times by an adult, Dr. GiaQuinta said. Barriers that separate children from water – such as fences, gates or ladder locks and/or motion alarms – also provide another layer of protection in case a child wanders away from adults while they are occupied.

When out at the lake or on a boat, children should always wear a life jacket and should only swim in safe, supervised places like a public beach or within a designated swimming area. Adults should not be swimming or supervising children if they’ve been drinking alcohol.

“I like to tell families: never assume supervision,” Dr. GiaQuinta said. “When lots of adults are around water, we tend to let our guard down, assuming everyone is watching, when in fact no one is. Be very deliberate to have a ‘water watcher’ at all times when children are around pools, ponds or lakes.”

Education is also important. Children can begin taking swim lessons even as toddlers, while parents should be trained in CPR and water rescue in case of an emergency.

“Summer should a fun time for families, but having fun in the pool or at the beach also means remembering to be safe around the water,” Dr. GiaQuinta said. “Parkview is always ready to help in an emergency, but following these safety tips can help you avoid an emergency in the first place.”

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