A Golden Gate Estates toddler died Thursday at an area hospital after she was found unresponsive in a family swimming pool Sunday afternoon, according to the Collier County Sheriff's Office.
The mother of 14-month-old Cassidy Allen was at home cooking when she saw her daughter's cup on the edge of the pool and the girl floating on the surface, deputies reported. Investigators are waiting for full autopsy results, but local drowning prevention advocates said it would be the first drowning-related death of a child in the county in more than a year.
"It's sad. When we hear stories like that, it breaks our hearts," said Paula DiGrigoli, executive director of the Safe and Healthy Children's Coalition of Collier County, which works on drowning prevention initiatives.
Although nine people younger than 18 drowned in 2011, no children drowned in Collier County in 2012, according to data from the medical examiner's office. Kim Burgess, who heads up the Fort Lauderdale-based National Drowning Prevention Alliance, said it was an extraordinary accomplishment for the county.
"Are you kidding? That's rare," she said. "That was just a flat-out miracle."
DiGrigoli said the Collier coalition was formed in 2010 following an increase of child drowning deaths in 2009. Across the county, 32 children drowned from 2000 to 2011.
The group encourages parents to take several measures to protect their children, like installing door alarms, putting up a pool fence, learning CPR and enrolling their children in water safety classes.
"Our message is layers of protection — no one thing is going to prevent a drowning," she said. "The more layers you have, the lower the risk to have a drowning tragedy happen."
Dr. Todd Vedder, a pediatrician with the NCH health care group and the chair of the children's safety coalition, said he is heading up an effort to get other doctors to hand out water safety booklets to parents during wellness checkups.
"Right now, there are about 20 or 30 pediatricians giving out these booklets in English, Spanish and Creole," Vedder said. "That has been an important piece of the campaign."
NCH also requires its pediatricians to ask parents about water safety, he said.
"We're almost graded on it," Vedder said. "They've really made it a priority."
Although adding layers of protection is important, Burgess said families shouldn't become too comfortable with something like a pool fence.
"I have three boys, and where there's a will, there's a way," she said. "You can never fully have peace of mind. Whether you have a fence or not, you can't let your guard down for a second."
The national group has even changed its verbiage from keeping children "safe" to keeping them "safer."
"There's no such thing as 'safe,'" Burgess said. "You can only do everything to make your family safer."