LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Save lives, keep the pool open

LETTER TO THE EDITOR • LOIS WESSEL

When I heard the news of the county council proposed budget cuts to the Piney Branch Elementary School swimming pool, I thought back to several years ago when I arrived at a swimming facility in Montgomery County and immediately was beckoned to help a child who was drowning.  “No sabe nadar, no sabe nadar”—“he doesn’t know how to swim,” — cried his mother.  I am a nurse practitioner and along with another nurse on the scene, we provided CPR and slowly, this small Hispanic child went from a grey-blue color with a weak pulse to a warm brown with a strong heartbeat.  It was one of the few times in my life I’d seen a miracle. According to the police, the child survived.  Per his mother, he never had the opportunity to learn to swim.

For me, one of the most important reasons to keep the pool open because it provides children in our community, especially those who may not be able to access swim or water safety lessons anywhere else, a place to learn to swim and safely have fun in the water. Over a third of the students (35.6 %) at PBES qualify for free and reduced lunches. In addition, over a third of the students are black (36.9%) and 16% Latino. According to the CDC, black children between the ages 5 and 14 are three times more likely to drown than white children. One of the factors the CDC points to for this disparity is the lack of access to swimming pools. The USA Swimming Foundation reports that 70% of black children and 60% of Latino children cannot swim.

As a swimmer at Piney Branch Elementary School, I often see my patients from Montgomery County’s only federally qualified health center, Community Clinic, Inc., swimming at the pool.  These are adults and children who are at risk for hypertension and diabetes and other chronic diseases.   They do not have the economic resources to join a gym or a private pool.

Swimming is an excellent way to combat obesity and its consequences including hypertension and diabetes.  Please consider restoring the funding for the pool. Removing a source of exercise and well being from the community has huge impacts that will be felt for years to come.

Just recently I saw a young female patient of mine coming to the pool for early morning swim lessons. She was exited to see me and said proudly, “ya se nadar”—“I now know how to swim!”  This is a cry I’d love to see all children in Montgomery County say.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lois Wessel is a Takoma Park resident and a family nurse practitioner.