Shallow Water Blackout Deaths Continue


Dr. Tom Griffiths ::::

I first started writing about the dangers of Shallow Water Blackout (SWB) in 1983 in the book Sport SCUBA Diving, In Depth.  In the mid 1990’s I began to publish articles specifically instructing lifeguards and facility managers to stop dangerous breath-holding, underwater swimming and hypoxic training.  In 2008, I even produced a half hour video called Shallow Water Blackout with the financial help from insurance companies and other concerned contributors.  But after nearly 30 years of focusing my efforts on shallow water blackout prevention, I have failed miserably.  Shallow Water Blackout deaths continue at an alarming rate to young, athletic and highly motivated individuals.  For example, in March of 2011, a husband and father of three young children killed himself in a YMCA pool in Maine while practicing hypoxic training.  Then on April 17, 2011, Whitner Milner, age 25, drown in his backyard residential pool while practicing breath-holding drills for free diving.  In May of 2011, a husband and father of two daughters died of Shallow Water Blackout while spear fishing off the beach.  On Wednesday, July 13, 2011, two young men succumbed to shallow water blackout simultaneously in the shallow end of a public swimming pool in Staten Island, NY swimming pool while doing underwater training drills.  Both hoped and trained for military careers.  But these shallow water blackout deaths were obvious because the victims had been observed holding their breathe repeatedly for long periods of time.  Far too many shallow water deaths get swept under the rug and go under reported because for the most part, Coroners never heard of shallow water blackout and simply list “drowning” on the death certificate.  It’s extremely to quantify exactly how many SWB are occurring when Coroners routinely cite “drowning” as the cause of death when good swimmer die suddenly.

But perhaps the sad and sudden SWB death of Gene Whitner Milner, 25, from Atlanta, Georgia will make a difference.  That’s because his mother, Rhonda, a physician who also never heard of Shallow Water Blackout, lost her son in her own backyard pool doing an activity he loved.  The coroner who pronounced her son dead, likewise never heard of Shallow Water Blackout.  Someone mention the phrase to her, she googled it, and that brought her to me.  At long last, aquatics had a voice, an advocate, a mother that does not want her son’s shocking and sudden death to be in vain.  How will Rhonda’s efforts be different and effective?  First, in the few months immediately following her son’s death, she started a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation in honor of her son:  In addition to providing education and warnings about shallow water blackout, she hopes to profile many of the victims whose lives were cut short by this insidious death.  We can all help her in this regard.  We need to have families of victims contact Rhonda so she can profile them on her web site.  Once we can clearly illustrate the scores of healthy and talented young people killing themselves unwittingly in our swimming pools, we can then educate, warn and change behavior to prevent these deaths.  First and foremost, every swimming pool in American must warn its guests and members that breath-holding in the water is deadly dangerous.  Secondly, every pool must ban extended breath-holding in our pools throughout the county.  For additional information, please contact Tom Griffiths at

Categories: DJS Industry News


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