Disney Fantasy

Deadly Distractions – Parents Question Cruise Line Policy As Boy Remains In Coma

John Konrad
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April 9, 2013

“VOYAGER OF THE SEAS”, ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL – JANUARY 10, 2012: Open pool deck of the large cruise ship during sunset time. Shutterstock Image ID: 275174309 Copyright: Yevgen Belich

“Can a sign prevent kids from drowning on cruise ships?” asked Kim Browning, a parent and frequent cruise ship guest, in a message sent to gCaptain this week.

The message comes nine days after a 4-year-old boy nearly drowned on the Disney Fantasy cruise ship and remains in a coma today facing possible long term brain damage. This is the second drowning incident the company faced in March (although the first was not aboard a ship), leaving parents questioning Disney’s policy of not having permanent lifeguards at their pools.

Witnesses say that the boy, with his family on a seven-day Western Caribbean cruise, was reported to be in distress at 3:30pm, about two hours before the ship’s scheduled departure. CPR and first aid were quickly administered by “emergency rescue workers” and rescue officials say the child had a pulse when he was transported by helicopter to a nearby hospital.The ship left port and continued on its Caribbean cruise 45 minutes after the near-drowning.

This is not the only high profile medical case for the vessel. On Saturday night, the ship headed back to Port Canaveral shortly after departure when two passengers with pre-existing conditions suffered medical emergencies on board. The ship later set sail again for a seven-day cruise.

Doctors say the 4-year-old boy remains in critical condition and may face extensive brain damage, but his parents remain optimistic. “We definitely feel your prayers and know that God is with us,” his parents wrote on CaringBridge, a site to share personal health news. “We have a battle to fight here!”

Yet the question remains whether or not this tragedy was preventable.

Disney Fantasy Pool by Scott Smith
Experts say these poolside lights, waterslides and giant movie screens aboard the Disney Fantasy distract parents. (Photo by Scott Smith)
David Peikin, Director, Public Affairs Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) says that companies like Disney clearly inform passengers of the potential for danger. “Much like many hotels and resorts with swimming pools, cruise ships utilize conspicuous signage to make individuals aware that a full-time lifeguard is not on duty.” says Peikin.

But are signs effective at reminding distracted parents to keep a close watch on their children?

“Warning signs are not enough,” according to one cruise ship safety expert in an interview conducted by gCaptain. “Cruise ships are designed to distract and entertain passengers, but they also distract parents from monitoring children. Parents can’t be expected to be fully attentive to dangers facing their children in an environment filled with views of passing ships, food, alcohol, entertainment and, in the case of Disney, highly distracting movies played poolside.”

And parents need to be fully attentive when kids are in any pool. In gCaptain’s popular article, Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning, former US Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Mario Vittone tells us how easy it can be for even the most attentive parents to miss the signs of drowning. In the article, Vittone states “of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists drowning as the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 1 to 14 and the fifth leading cause of death for Americans of all ages. It is clear that the training of professional cruise ship medical teams has saved many lives including, hopefully, this child. But is a staff of medical professionals enough? Despite having professional medical staff available for emergency response, why are cruise ships not hiring professional lifeguards capable of recognizing the signs of a child drowning and preventing these tragedies?

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