Drowning Prevention Foundation
SAMIRA’S DEATH AND JJ’S
Samira Riggsbee was two; her brother JJ
a year younger. On July 14, 1978, the Riggsbees left their
children with a teen-aged babysitter, to share a quiet dinner
alone. Later, the babysitter felt ill and went to the
bathroom, leaving Samira and JJ in the family room. She
returned in fifteen minutes; the sliding glass door was open.
Both children were floating face down in the pool. A neighbor
heard her scream, called 911 and summoned the Riggsbees. When
they arrived at the hospital, a nurse and firefighter wouldn’t
make eye contact. Samira was dead. JJ was in critical
THROUGH GRIEF TO ADVOCACY
JJ’s brain was severely injured.
Nadina stayed at the hospital for four months, unable to go
home to an empty house. It became clear that JJ would be
severely disabled. After seven months, she looked
unsuccessfully for a “place” for him. In June, 1979, she
decided to take him home, the youngest child ever to go home
with that level of disability.
JJ had a tracheal tube, quadriplegia,
severe brain damage, and need for around the clock care.
Nadina’s time was consumed by JJ and her newborn son Eric.
She bore two more children in quick succession. As JJ grew
older, she fought every step of the way for him to be in
school. Since 1979, Nadina’s advocacy skills have been
finely honed by working with hospital, health care and school
bureaucracies on JJ’s behalf. JJ is now 24.
Drowning prevention became her other
passion. In 1980 Nadina began to study the problem. She found
that drowning was the leading cause of all deaths in
California’s children ages 1-4 years. When she asked a
doctor why no one did anything about drowning, she was told,
“nobody has bothered”.
She “bothered”. She advocated
environmental protection, primarily mandatory four-sided
fencing of residential swimming pools. In 1982, she attended a
luncheon, where the guest speaker was a member of the Board of
Supervisors for Contra Costa County. She moved the seating
cards at his table so that she could sit next to him, to
educate him about pool fencing.
She organized families of drowning
victims to testify at Board of Supervisors meetings. For a
full year, the pool industry lobbyists fought hard in
opposition to fencing requirements. Before a key vote, a local
newspaper ran a story about drowning and the problem of ‘negligent
parents’. But she and her co-workers prevailed.
In 1983, the swimming pool ordinance was
passed, effective November 1984. Contra Costa County was the
first jurisdiction to pass a residential swimming pool
ordinance, setting national precedence. However, it covered
only the unincorporated areas of the county.
In 1985 she created the Drowning
Prevention Foundation, a non-profit agency which works to
create awareness and advocate for policy change to prevent
childhood drowning. That year, she met with a commissioner of
the Consumer Product Safety Commission in Washington, DC, who
at first argued that a pool was not a ‘product.’ Since
then, CPSC has been a valuable partner in advocating 4-sided
fencing for residential swimming pools.
Her foundation was a sponsor of
California’s 1996 Swimming Pool Act, which requires that all
home swimming pools built in or after 1998 comply with safety
standards for swimming pool enclosures, safety pool covers, or
exit alarms. The “or” bothers her. She is a “fence lady”,
believing that alarms are ineffective, but an easy way to
satisfy the building code.
Nadina also educates the public. She has
produced educational brochures for pediatricians’ offices,
preschools, and libraries. Every year, California’s governor
names May as Drowning Prevention Month. For the past 13 years,
Safeway grocery stores nationally have put drowning prevention
messages on their paper bags for that month.
Nadina’s advocacy goes beyond pool
drownings. Children love to play in water. Drownings happen in
spas, bathtubs, barrels, 5-gallon pails - any place where
water can cover a child’s nose and mouth. She is concerned
about the use of bathtub ring devices for young children. The
bottom suction cups can come loose, children push up, fall
forward and drown. She knows of at least 85 drowning deaths
due to use of bathtub rings. In July, 2000 her foundation
submitted a petition to CPSC to get these devices off of the
Nadina has been frustrated by lack of
funding for 20 years. She did have a small contract with the
Contra Costa county health department to work with other
cities on pool fencing ordinances, and the State Farm
Insurance and Pacific Life funded the brochures. But she was
unsuccessful competing against other health departments for a
grant. They want her help - but they “contact”, not “contract”.
She questions why most money for prevention goes to county
health departments for programs or to scientists for research,
not to the important advocacy work of nonprofit organizations.
Nadina knows profoundly the toll that
childhood drowning exacts. Her marriage ended in divorce, as
do many marriages when there is a death or brain damage of a
child. But she continues her care of JJ and drowning
prevention. She has testified as an expert witness in cases
involving drowning. She serves on many committees, and is the
Chair of the Drowning Prevention Committee of California’s
Children’s Health and Safety Coalitions. She assists other
jurisdictions “as needed” as an advocate for fencing
ordinances, meeting with building code officials, and helping
to implement local educational programs. She is now running
for the Danville Town Council.
WAYS TO CONTACT/CONTRIBUTE
Drowning Prevention Foundation
P. O. Box 202
Alamo, CA 94507
Tel: 925-820-SAVE Fax: 925-820-7152