NDPA In The Media

Original Article: Fox News   |   By: Gabriele Regalbuto

Granger Smith’s wife, Amber Smith, partners with drowning prevention organization to drive awareness

Amber Smith is partnering with the National Drowning Prevention Alliance to bring attention to water safety and drowning prevention

Amber Smith is partnering with the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA), a California-based nonprofit organization, ahead of the summer months to drive conversation and awareness around water safety and drowning prevention.

On June 4, 2019, Amber Smith and her husband, country music singer Granger Smith, experienced a parent’s worst nightmare.

That’s when their 3-year-old son, River, squeezed through the fence surrounding their family home pool and drowned.

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After two anguishing days in the hospital spent hoping and praying for positive answers from doctors about their child’s condition, the couple decided to donate River’s organs when they understood a full life would not be possible.

River Kelly Smith was just 3 years old when he drowned in the family pool. (The Smith family)

River Kelly Smith was just 3 years old when he drowned in the family pool. (The Smith family)

“It was silent, and it was quick, and there were other people outside and nobody heard anything, nobody saw anything,” Smith told Fox News Digital during a video interview.

“I didn’t realize we had the number-one killer in our backyard.”

Drowning is the most common cause of death among children ages 1-4, Adam Katchmarchi, CEO of the NDPA, told Fox News Digital over the phone.

“Almost 70% of toddler drownings are happening during non-swimming times,” Katchmarchi said.

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The Smith family had just wrapped up dinner and the three children were outside playing with Granger in the yard when River slipped through the locked fence surrounding the pool.

The paramedics were able to revive River’s heart. However, his brain was without oxygen for too long.

River Smith's birthday is May 16, and he is honored by his family annually with sweet treats and paying it forward to those in need. (The Smith family)

River Smith’s birthday is May 16, and he is honored by his family annually with sweet treats and paying it forward to those in need. (The Smith family)

“He made it to the water within seconds,” Smith said.

River was in his pajamas and nearly ready for bed when the accident happened.

“If water is present, drowning is a risk,” Katchmarchi said.

“Layers fail, and all layers can fail. We never know which layer will fail, and which will prevent drowning, so it’s important to practice all of them.”

“Parents need to practice layers of protection.”

Katchmarchi said there is no one solution for drowning prevention and multiple protective layers are necessary to ensure a child’s safety near a body of water.

He recommends a holistic approach to water safety that includes barriers, alarms, parameter fencing, restrictive access inside the home, supervision, lifeguards, water competency, U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets and proper CPR training in case of an emergency.

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“Parents need to still practice layers of protection even if their children are wearing a flotation device,” Katchmarchi said.

He recommends touch supervision, which is when a parent maintains contact close enough to a child in or around water where they have the ability to reach out and touch them.

“Our story is drowning, and so part of that is sharing what we didn’t know, telling parents that they need locks and barriers and supervision and gates, and they need their children to have water competency,” Smith said.

Prior to River’s accident, the Smith family was using Puddle Jumper arm floats for their children. Smith says she doesn’t blame Puddle Jumper for the loss of her child.

However, today, she is aware that the floats were providing the children with a false sense of security and putting them in a drowning position.

“We teach our kids that water is fun all the time, and we put them in unsafe positions wearing floaties when they think they have the skills that they need to survive, and they don’t,” Smith said.

“We’re on a mission to share what the first sport should be and that is giving your children the skills they need to survive in the water, so we’re calling it First Sport.”

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First Sport is an NDPA campaign that stars talking toddlers who encourage their parents to enroll them in swim lessons. Katchmarchi explains that while many parents seek swim instruction annually, there is a shortage of lifeguards and water safety is an underfunded public health issue across the country.

“We don’t have enough swim instructors to teach every kid in the country who wants to learn how to swim,” he said. “There’s just not enough capacity. We do need to invest in community pool infrastructure.”

Amber and Granger Smith welcomed their fourth child, Maverick, in 2021. He began swimming lessons at just 8 months old. (The Smith family)

Amber and Granger Smith welcomed their fourth child, Maverick, in 2021. He began swimming lessons at just 8 months old. (The Smith family)

Fear of a child swallowing too much water or crying are just a few reasons some parents across the country hesitate to enroll small children into lessons.

“They’re not going to do anything that’s unsafe for your child,” Smith said of swim instructors.

In August 2021, Amber and Granger Smith welcomed their fourth child, Maverick, to the family. She says he first started swimming lessons at just 8 months old.

“He learned breath control at 8 months,” Smith said.

Maverick was learning to roll over in the water and find the air himself. Smith and her husband brought Maverick back for lessons again at 20 months. Now, she says he swims in the bathtub.

“It was hard to watch him cry and call for Mommy, but sometimes we have to do things with our children that are hard to give them the skills that they need,” she said. “I would give anything to hear River cry again.”

Katchmarchi says there is a stigma surrounding children’s drowning deaths in America and that, too often, parents who lose their children to the silent killer are assumed to be “bad parents.”

“I would give anything to hear River cry again.”

“It can happen to you,” he said. “It happens in 20 to 60 seconds. Drowning is preventable, we just need to own that. No parent wants to think about losing their kid in such a horrific and tragic way. They think, ‘That’s not going to happen to me.’”

The First Sport campaign kicks off May 1, 2024, which is also River’s birthday month.

“We remember him on that day, and we always try to go do something special for other people on that day,” Smith said of May 16, River’s birthday.

“We don’t say that he’s gonna be 7 or 8 or 10 or 20. He’s always 3.”

“His intended days were lived out, the days that God had for him, so he’s always 3,” Smith concluded.

About the Author

Gabriele Regalbuto

Gabriele Regalbuto is an SEO editor at Fox News Digital. Gabriele joined Fox in 2021 where she has assisted on coverage for breaking and major news events including the ongoing wars between Israel and Hamas and Russia and Ukraine, the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the Uvalde school shooting in Texas and the Idaho murders of four college students. Additionally, Gabriele has worked on the current 2024 presidential election cycle including GOP debates and the 2022 midterm elections. She previously worked at the industry leader in SEO software and has six-plus years of SEO editorial, strategy and management experience. Gabriele has a degree in Journalism and Communications from West Virginia University. She has experience writing and optimizing content for topics including politics, food and recipes, lifestyle, insurance, construction, software, sports, art, crime and more. Gabriele got her start in newspapers and magazines in 2014 and explored the digital marketing world until she found her way to SEO.