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YMCA helps pay for family's swimming lessons, teaching 8 children about water safety

In the last 5 years, the East Tennessee Children's Hospital reported four drownings and saw 116 near-drownings.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn — As the weather warms, more families are expected to head to the pool for a swim. However, a quick dip in the water can result in tragedy.

Drownings remain the leading cause of unintentional death among children from 1 year old to 4 years old, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In the last 5 years, the East Tennessee Children's Hospital reported 4 drownings but saw 116 near-drownings in that same time frame. That number is continuing to concern many parents across the region, with the most near-drowning happening in 2019.

So far in 2021, ETCH said it confirmed seven cases of near-drownings.In May, a 1-year-old from Crossville fell into a coy pond and almost drowned.

After a week in the hospital during May, he's now facing tonic seizures according to a public prayer group on social media. 

"We're so big about safety around the water," said Steve Barnas with YMCA. "It's a life skill that is not just something you learn everyday. You need it for the rest of your life."

For those reasons, he said they want families to take safety seriously.

A mother of eight, Katie Addington, was given a grant from the YMCA to cover her kids' swim lessons. She said she wouldn't have been able to pay for them without it.

Almost four months in, she says the lessons have made a difference.

"Having everyone being able to be somewhat self-sufficient is a huge safety thing for us," said Addington. "It takes just a split second of me not being able to see them or one of their siblings swimming away for it to be dangerous."

With the kids ranging from 2 years old through 17 years old, she now feels safer taking them all out to the pool and said she is confident they can stay afloat. 

"When it's just me with all 8 kids in the water it can be a little scary," she said. "I don't freak out or get scared anymore when taking everybody swimming because I know they are much more self-sufficient."

Barnas said even in shallow water, accidents can still happen. Even with months or years of lessons, he urges parents to always watch their children while in the water. 

Experts believe near-drownings will be higher this year because fewer children were able to take lessons or practice their swimming skills last year.

The YMCA offers scholarships for families who need assistance.