MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Two years ago, Tom Bardwell lost his 3-year-old daughter in a drowning accident in their family pool.
He recalls the details of that April day like it was yesterday.
“I had a couple of work calls that needed to be returned and I kind of went through my normal routine, and had Lylah with her iPad and locked the doors and did what we normally do and just wanted to make a quick phone call and walked out of the room,” said Bardwell. “Next thing I know, obviously, we had the worst day of our lives,” he continued.
Despite the locked doors and a safety gate surrounding the pool, Lylah managed to make her way into the pool. She drowned trying to get one of her dolls.
“It was not something that was a regular occurrence that Lylah would run toward the pool, it just didn’t happen. For whatever reason that day, it did,” said the young girl’s father.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages one to four.
“Encouraging kids to learn how to swim is super important. We are surrounded by water, just Florida in general, pools, lakes, ponds are all around us so those are all areas that they could interact with or be around, so it is important they really kind of focus on getting that knowledge and that skill at an early age,” said Assistant Chief of Special Operations for Manatee County EMS Sean Dwyer.
Bardwell says he and his wife were in the process of trying to get Lylah swimming lessons or water safety classes.
“We just kept pushing them off because of other things that were going on. You are thinking, is it really important at that age, but the truth is, it is, it is really important,” her father said. “If we can give somebody just that extra nudge to do a little bit more or to go get that water safety class or whatever it is, then we feel like that is honoring to Lylah,” he continued.
Lylah was a student at the Haven’s Selby Preschool in Sarasota County. There’s a garden in her memory outside the facility.
The school has a pool on its property that up until Lylah’s death was used for aquatic therapy purposes. Following the tragedy, staff created a swim program to teach children water safety skills and how to swim.
Meghann Ehling who teaches swim lessons at the Haven in addition to her work as an occupational and aquatic therapist says little Lylah is always on her mind when she is in the pool.
“She was such a sweet little angel. I loved the motto of ‘live like Lylah’ because she really did, she ran full speed into everything and just did it with all the enthusiasm that you can think of,” said Ehling.
She says the young girl’s death highlights the critical need for children to learn swimming skills at a young age.
“Especially here in Florida, there are so many ponds, so many pools, the beach, there’s water everywhere,” said Ehling.
Drownings can be prevented with education. Fire Marshall Rodney Kwiatkowski with West Manatee Fire Rescue says it’s paramount to always have a ‘water watcher’.
“Anytime that you have children around a body of water, you pass along and wear this badge, it is a water-watcher badge. What you are doing, is you are dedicating one adults to wear this badge whenever children are around a body of water. That that person is designated to be the water watcher. You can get this by contacting your local fire department or Safe Kids Suncoast through the All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg,” said Kwiatkowski.
You can find more water safety tips here.