News | Published July 10, 2013

Upcoming Family Medicine Seminar explores facts and myths about drowning

Summertime by the pool, lake or ocean means fun and relaxation for many; however, some of the lurking dangers of these places need to be brought to light, according to Tom Griffiths, EdD, president and founder of Aquatic Safety Research Group, LLC, and presenter at the Family Medicine Seminar at Mount Nittany Medical Center on July 18.

“There are a number of myths about drowning,” according to Dr. Griffiths. One myth is the fact that many drownings are not drownings at all, he says, but rather medical “events” that happen in the water—such as a seizure or a disruption in heart rhythm during which the person often takes in water struggling to breathe, making it appear to be a drowning.

Designed for physicians, advanced practice clinicians, medical students, and ancillary staff involved in patient care, Dr. Griffiths’ talk, “Drowning: Surprising Facts and Myths,” will include research about how “events,” such as those described above, are related to physiology and genetics and play a part in what has been considered “drownings” of “good swimmers.”

The presentation will also describe shallow water blackout as a circumstance where “good swimmers” drown. Dr. Griffiths explains that the “game” of competitive breath holding while swimming is a deadly one. Usually swimmers participating in this game will purposely hyperventilate - breathe in and out very quickly – or over-exert themselves before holding their breath in the water. Doing this deprives the body of CO2. With low CO2, the body loses its drive to breathe, causing the brain to have a lack of oxygen. According to Dr. Griffiths, “Within minutes, the swimmer can black out and drown.”

To counteract the danger that water presents, especially for children, Dr. Griffiths has been on the forefront of a national water safety program called, Note & Float™. “We know of no drowning cases of someone who was wearing a properly-fitting life jacket,” says Dr. Griffiths. “We need to change the culture, and advocate life jackets in public pools for all non-swimmers age 12 and younger.”

In his explanation of the Note & Float™ program, Dr. Griffiths will present the six steps to safety. In addition to the lifejacket enforcement for small children, some of the recommendations include various supervisory recommendations for parents, a registry at the aquatic facility of all non-swimmers, a wristband ID of non-swimmers, written and verbal safety directions, and the option of a swimming test for anyone wishing to swim in five feet or deeper or the option of wearing a lifejacket.

Another issue to be discussed will be the challenges that lifeguards must overcome to stay focused and prevent drowning incidences. Dr. Griffiths will describe The Complex Quadriplex of Lifeguard Blindness, which consists of four areas in both the cognitive and physical realms that present issues for lifeguards: external distractions like cell phones and socializing; physical factors that affect the ability to see clearly in the water such as reflections, refraction and ripple effect; internal noise, including thoughts and emotions; and lastly, the problem of cognitive body blindness, which refers to a denial, or disbelief in what one is seeing, creating a delay in taking appropriate action that could save a drowning victim.

The Family Medicine Seminar Series is presented in collaboration with the Penn State College of Medicine, Department of Family and Community Medicine. Healthcare providers can register in advance by calling 814.234.6738 or emailing A buffet dinner is served at 6:00 pm and the presentation begins at 6:30 pm. Download the registration form.

There is no cost for community members to attend the FMSS presentation, but there is a $15 fee for the optional buffet dinner. The cost to attend is $25 for physicians. The program will be held in the Galen and Nancy Dreibelbis Auditorium, Entrance D, at Mount Nittany Medical Center.