Amy in the News
Pool-drain trauma may prod new law (Star Tribune)
Two Minnesota lawmakers speak out for action on a proposal designed to prevent the kind of accident suffered by Abigail Taylor.
July 7, 2007
By Maura Lerner
The shocking account of a 6-year-old girl's injury last week in a St. Louis Park wading pool is already having a ripple effect in Washington.
On Friday, two members of Minnesota's congressional delegation, Rep. Jim Ramstad and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, called for passage of a federal pool safety law to prevent such accidents in the future.
"It's every parent's worst nightmare," said Klobuchar. "Your child is just playing in a pool ... and then suddenly your life is changed forever."
Abigail Taylor of Edina suffered devastating internal injuries as she sat on the drain of a wading pool at the Minneapolis Golf Club in St. Louis Park on June 29. The suction was so powerful that it ruptured her rectum and pulled out almost all her intestines, according to the family's attorney, Robert Bennett.
She was taken to Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, where she remains in serious condition.
The club's general manager, Ray Clemas, said Friday that he's "sick with grief" over the incident. "To the best of my knowledge, there wasn't anything wrong with the pool," he said.
The club's insurance company has launched its own investigation, he said, and for now, he's been advised not to comment further. "We all feel horrible," Clemas said.
Abigail is expected to be on a feeding tube for the rest of her life, said Bennett. On Friday, he said that the injury had destroyed virtually all of her small intestine, correcting previous reports that surgeons had removed part of it after the accident.
Abigail's case has cast a spotlight on a relatively obscure danger -- children getting stuck or caught in the powerful suction of pool drains.
At least three other children have suffered similar injuries since 1990. And 33 others have died, most when they were trapped underwater by the drains in hot tubs or pools, according to federal reports.
Another high-profile case
It's a danger that Nancy Baker knows well. One of the victims was her 7-year-old daughter, Virginia Graeme Baker, the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker.
Graeme, as she was known, died five years ago when she got stuck in the drain of a hot tub and drowned.
Ever since, her mother has lobbied for new pool-safety laws to prevent such tragedies. And she says that Abigail Taylor's trauma just may capture the eyes of Congress this summer.
"It's just a heartbreaker," said Baker, who works with a Washington-based group called Safe Kids Worldwide. "Their story is going to have a huge impact."
Baker herself testified in Congress about her daughter's tragedy. The family had gone to a pool party at a friend's home in 2002. At one point, Graeme was swimming with her sisters in the pool; then her mother noticed her missing, and thought she had gone in the house.
"Moments later, my 11-year-old daughter came running from one end of the pool towards me, with terror, horror, in her eyes," Nancy Baker recalled later, in her congressional testimony. Then they rushed to the hot tub, where Graeme was struggling underwater.
Baker said she saw "nothing but dark and bubbling water" and jumped in, frantically trying to save her daughter. "I pulled with all of my strength and in the confusion and panic I could not raise her up," she said.
Paramedics finally pulled Graeme out, but she died at the hospital. She had been pinned underwater by the "hundreds of pounds of suction force," her mother said.
Law fell victim to time
Since then, Nancy Baker has tried to spread the word about the dangers of pool drains. She's also lobbied for the federal Pool and Spa Safety Act, to pressure owners to take extra precautions, such as installing drain covers that minimize the risk of anyone getting stuck.
The law passed the Senate last year, but died in the House in the final moments of the 2006 Congress. They simply ran out of time, Ramstad said.
"Believe me, if Amy and I have anything to say about it, this will reignite this legislation and we'll get a vote immediately," said Ramstad, who represents the district where the Taylors live.
On Friday, he and Klobuchar announced that they had signed on as co-sponsors. And both sent letters to colleagues citing Abigail's "horrible tragedy" as a cause for action.
Klobuchar, a Democrat, said that she and Ramstad, a Republican, will push for bipartisan support for the bill.
Abigail's parents, Scott and Kathryn Taylor, may testify in support of it, Bennett said.
And Baker, for one, hopes it will pass. "I think people will feel hard-pressed to vote against it," she said.
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