Telegram Staff Writer
There are two sides to the swimming hole.
It can be the quick fix to a long, hot summer day. But year after year, it has been a place that children and babies die.
Drowning can happen as easy as a stubbed toe. Anatasia Dewald knows that to be true in a way that no parent should ever have to experience.
In June 2005, the bodies of her 23 ½-month-old twins, Devin and Conner, were found face down in a pool.
'They were at a licensed daycare. I took them to daycare one day a week, so that I could work,' said Ms. Dewald of Copperas Cove. 'The person who was supposed to be watching them decided to take a nap.'
So Ms. Dewald's babies - who were conceived via the expensive, lengthy process of in vitro fertilization - went unwatched.
'It was an above-ground pool. It had a gate, but it wasn't latched,' Ms. Dewald said. 'The twins got outside. The gate was open. They drowned.'
Counseling has helped her manage her grief and anger. Her need to 'find a positive in the negative' inspired her to become what she is today - an aquatic skills instructor for infants.
'I had to do something,' Ms. Dewald said. 'There would never be any justice as I saw it.'
According to police reports, the daycare worker who wanted that nap - Keri Ann Waller - was sentenced to six years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on two counts of recklessly causing serious bodily harm. After six months of custody, she was released and sentenced to 10 years probation.
'Three months for each baby,' Ms. Dewald said. 'It was just shock probation. They get a taste of what jail life is like, so that they'll be encouraged to change their ways. Well, this person didn't have a prior record, so it wasn't a case of straightening up ...'
Her voice faded to silence. What else could she say?
. . .A cell phone rang.
'Hello,' says Ms. Dewald.
She listens for a bit and then says, 'Yes, yes. Now, when did he go to the emergency room?'
Her lips tightened, Ms. Dewald shakes her head.
'OK, ma'am. You've got my e-mail from the Web site, so send me your information, and I'll get the registration packet to you. It takes 24 to 48 hours for a person to register. As soon as that happens, he can start lessons.'
Ms. Dewald hung up and shoved her phone into a bag.
'You see. That's the kind of calls I get,' she said. 'They don't call me until their child damn near dies.'
. . .Parents not being proactive in providing swim lessons for their children is Ms. Dewald's No. 1 peeve about her job as an aquatic skills instructor.
Her No. 1 pleasure, though, is knowing that every baby she teaches to breathe while floating will have a better chance of surviving situations like the one her twins faced.
'It's a personal healing,' she said. 'Each time I float a baby, each time he rolls on his back and floats and breathes on his own, it's an accomplishment. That's one more parent who doesn't have to feel what I feel.'
Her licensing and training came through Infant Swim-ming Resource - a Florida-based aquatic skill center that teaches basic water stills to youngsters from 6 months to 6 years. Increasing in size, the company's got representatives in Houston and San Antonio.
'Most places that do swim lessons for babies and toddlers require that the child be accompanied by a parent and wear a lifejacket or floaty,' Ms. Dewald said. 'ISR teaches the children to depend on themselves.'
At 6 months, ISR babies learn how to hold their breath, roll on their back and float unassisted. At 1 year and up, they learn the 6-month curriculum plus how to paddle to the side of the pool where they can crawl out or hang on the wall.
With mom sitting on a chair by the pool, the babies also learn that just because they can see Mommy, that doesn't mean Mommy will always be able to come and get them out of the pool.
'It's problem solving, and it's water safety,' Ms. Dewald said. 'We're not focusing on swim strokes or form. It's about how to survive.'
Lessons last 10 minutes a day Monday through Friday for three to four weeks.
'That's all it takes,' Ms. Dewald said.
Since most 6-month-old babies don't speak, ISR instructors use sensory motor stimuli to communicate.
'It's all about how the instructor touches the baby, and the repetition,' Ms. Dewald said. 'That's how babies learn.'
Parents should know that their babies will cry at lesson time.
'That's the only way babies communicate,' Ms. Dewald said. 'A pool is not their natural environment, and the instructor is a strange person to them. That's all they're saying.'
Ten minutes of crying is better than the alternative, she added.
'Do you want them floating and crying or face down and not alive? I'd take the crying.'
. . .Just awake from a nap, a pool was the last place 17-month-old Josh Mitchan wanted to be.
Even though Josh was crying and fussing at his July 15 lesson, his body knew what to do when Ms. Dewald removed her hand from under his back.
He bobbed under the water, and then his arms and legs stretched into the proper on-the-back floating position. He was crying a bothered cry, not a panicked one that gasped for air.
With eyes closed, he turned over so his hands and feet could paddle toward the pool steps. Wanting to breathe again, he rolled on his back and rested.
'When I saw him do that, I was like, 'Oh my God!'' said mom, Chaundra Mitchan of Rogers. 'He was doing what the big kids do.'
Josh's lessons with Ms. Dewald were amazing for Ms. Mitchan to watch.
'It's how much he learned and how quick,' Ms. Mitchan said. 'And I am so glad we did this. We have a pool. It doesn't have a gate around it, and he has two older sisters who already know how to swim. It would've been too easy for him to run outside and fall in the pool. There was no way we could afford not to do this. I'm positive that Anatasia's saved his life.'
. . .On the Web
Infant Swim Resource teaches basic water skills to babies as young as 6 months. Visit www.infantswim.com. for details.