This week paramedic Jason Smith, of the California Paramedic Foundation, sat down for an interview with Lynn Artz. Lynn is the mother of Nicholas Rosecrans, a toddler who tragically drowned in 1996 and after whom our award for first responder prevention programming is named. This May, marks the 23rd anniversary of Nicholas’ tragic passing and the 17th Annual Nicholas Rosecrans Award. This year’s award will be conferred at the 2019 EMS World Expo in New Orleans on October 14th.
Jason – Hi Lynn, thank you for joining us today!
Lynn – Hi Jason, thanks for having me!
Jason – I’d like to start with some background on Nicholas. I understand you were very proactive with Nicholas’ safety. Can you provide some context to the accident?
Lynn – Yes. I took Nicholas’ safety very seriously. When he was younger, I had a dream of him drowning. Upon waking, I went to check on him and found him sleeping peacefully in bed. It was quite scary even though it wasn’t real. We had a pool at the home, and I had it fenced in the day before Nicholas began walking.
Jason – That must have been very scary.
Lynn – Yes! It was.
As a working Mom, I placed him in daycare. I had picked a lovely daycare. A woman had started it at her home. They were incredibly responsive and had a good curriculum for the kids. They even baked their own bread. Nicholas was actually their first attendee, and he loved it there. Her home-schooled daughters treated him like a little brother. He was so loved. I couldn’t have asked for a better place.
The family that owned and ran the daycare had just moved into the home a few months before Nicholas started there. The home had a hot tub in the backyard, and I discussed my concerns with the owner. They were great and removed the entry stairs, covered the tub, and fenced it in. So, I felt very comfortable with their quick attention to the safety of their children.
Jason – Can you tell me about the morning of May 8th, 1996?
Lynn – On May 8th, I took Nicholas to daycare. I gave him a big kiss and left him playing with a ball and stick. At about 10AM, I received a call while at work from the daycare staff. They told me, ‘Nicholas is alive, the paramedics are with him. He fell into a pool.’
My immediate thought was, ‘What pool?!’ I had never seen a pool on the premises. Well, it turned out the home for sale next door had the pool. There was no fence around the pool. The home didn’t have a permit to have a pool built there in the first place.
I later learned the details of what had happened. Nicholas had been under the supervision of a young man while he and 4 other boys played in a grassy field with lots of trees. They called it ‘the orchard’, and I remember Nicholas had loved to play there. I recall the owner telling me about it and simply thought she had hired staff and was expanding. I was happy for her. By any account a 5 to 1 ratio at a daycare is considered pretty good. It had sounded like things were good.
Well. One of the boys was able to get out by pushing a gate open. As he ran off in one direction, a second boy ran in the opposite direction. The gentleman took off after them. By the time he had gathered the two boys and returned to the orchard, Nicholas had also ran off unbeknownst to the man. By the time, they figured out he was not just hiding among the trees and began looking for him, he had already fallen in the pool.
One of the owner’s daughters provided CPR while they called 911. The paramedics arrived and took over CPR. They were able to get his heart started and stabilize him enough for LifeFlight to transport him to Children’s Hospital of San Diego. That was when they called me. My office manager drove me first to the daycare, where I screamed Nicholas’ name as I ran up the driveway. An officer met me before I reached him and told me that he was to be transported to the hospital. I was allowed to come close enough to see the paramedics treating him on the porch. I grabbed his sopping wet shoes and clutched them to my chest all the way to the Children’s Hospital to await the helicopter. The smell of chlorine still takes me back to that awful day.
Jason – Can you talk a little bit about the following hours and the tough decision your family faced?
Lynn – Nicholas was placed on life support at the hospital. They had medicated him so that he would tolerate the breathing equipment while they performed tests to evaluate his brain function. After testing throughout the day, they came to us with the terrible results— Nicholas truly had no brain function. All that remained was the very primitive drive to breathe. They gave us the choice of keeping him on life support, with no likely change, or withdrawing care. We made the incredibly tough choice to withdraw care.
At about 10PM, when his sedation medication had worn off, he was removed from life support. I had the staff bring in a rocking chair and Nicholas was put in my arms. I rocked him, kissed him, and sang an Irish lullaby. His gurgling, labored breathing soon stopped. I sat and held him for a long time.
Jason – That is incredibly moving. I’m so sorry for your loss. And you reached out to the paramedics who responded to the incident, correct?
Lynn – That’s right. I had this strong, strong feeling that I needed to thank the first responders and paramedics who came to the daycare. This feeling continued for about a month, so I found out who had been working that day at the San Miguel station. I wrote them all individual letters and thanked them for the extra time they had given me with Nicholas.
Jason – Can you give us some insight into how this tragedy transitioned to the incredible prevention work you have helped support?
Lynn – Well after the event, I was very hopeful that something positive could come from it. I had truly done everything that I could to prevent this kind of tragedy, but it still occurred. I wanted the event to help prevent this from happening to others.
Several months after Nicholas’ drowning, I happened to be the program chair for my sorority alumnae group. We had been looking for programming for our regular meetings. Someone suggested that I speak with Roxanne Hoffman about presenting at a meeting. She was the head of the Safe Kids Coalition in San Diego. The person had heard her presentations were fantastic, and so I asked her to attend our September meeting.
At the September meeting, Roxanne Hoffman and I were chatting and she said ‘So I guess you know Paul Maxwell.’ I replied, ‘No I don’t, who is he?’ Roxanne went on to tell me that Paul was one of the paramedics who responded to Nicholas’ drowning, and that he had been carrying around the letter I had written to him.
She told me that he had actually responded to dozens of drownings that Spring. He had contacted her asking for her help. He was tired of responding to child drownings and wanted it to stop. Paul had started gathering statistics and data from his EMS system, data that was not previously available to the Safe Kids Coalition, to support legislation around pool safety.
Jason – That’s incredible how you met. Were changes to pool safety laws successful?
Lynn – Yes. Laws were created that forced new homes to have safety features like fences. Unfortunately, they grandfathered pools built prior to the law, but it was a great success moving forward.
Jason – Can you tell me about EPIC Medics?
Lynn – Well a few months after the legislation effort, I was contacted by Paul. He wanted to let me know that he had found several other paramedics who were interested in working on child injury prevention. Together they had started the group Paramedics Eliminating Preventable Injury in Children, or EPIC Medics. They were going to create prevention programming around the pediatric injury statistics they had gathered.
Jason – Do you feel paramedics and first responders help injury and illness programming to be more effective?
Lynn – Absolutely. It is a powerful image. These providers are authority figures that the public knows are responding to these incidents first-hand. It works to convey the importance of these issues. These are the people who show up first.
When it comes to prevention these providers know, more than anybody, what types of incidents are causing injury and illness in their communities. They are the ones showing up and treating these problems.
It’s similar to how a firefighter shows up to a fire, then studies how it happened, and then works to prevent that from happening in the future. Paramedics and EMTs are no different. They know what caused the injury or accident. Who better to work on prevention of those things.
Jason – I agree wholeheartedly. Can you tell me how the Nicholas Rosecrans Award got started and your involvement with it?
Lynn – It was Mother’s Day 2002. I had moved from San Diego County to Indianapolis at that point. I received a call from Josh Krimston, a paramedic/founder of EPIC Medics. He told me they were creating an award to give to paramedics and firefighters who had been working in injury prevention but often never recognized for their actions. He told me they wanted to name it after Nicholas. I was totally on board.
The first award was given out that year, and the winner was quite fittingly a fire chief in Alaska who had created a life vest water safety program called “Kids Don’t Float.” I believe the program continues to this day. Incredibly, the chief was discouraged by critics who did not think the program would be successful and thought life vests would just be stolen. Well, it turned out the community actually donated life vests and he successfully reduced drowning incidents in Alaska by 60%. I thought it was a wonderful program to kick-off the award.
The award has been given out each year since then. Each year I attend the ceremony so that I can physically hand the award to the winners. The act of giving away the award is so meaningful to me. I am so honored and grateful to be given that opportunity to recognize those individuals.
Jason – What does all of this prevention programming from the Safe Kids Coalition to EPIC Medics and the Nicholas Rosecrans Award mean to you?
Lynn – The story of my son has had such an impact. I know my son, at two years old, has saved lives. And that means a lot to me. I had one mother once tell me that she had been reading one of our articles. She came across the words, ‘There is no Splash…’ which prompted her to check on her own child. She actually found him to be underwater, but immediately pulled him out and he was fine. Nicholas’ story saved that life.
It makes me feel like his life and death have purpose. It wasn’t just a random tragedy. There was a reason. It meant something. It means my son didn’t die for nothing. There has been a positive change in his honor.
Jason- Do you have any advice for first responders interested in prevention?
Lynn– Analyze your community. What types of incidents are you getting called to most? What types of things do you see on your incidents that you believe can be changed?
The previous award winners list is a great place to look for ready-made solutions. The Nicholas Rosecrans Award has recognized programs working on everything from pediatric drowning to senior falls and teenage driver safety to drug abuser rehabilitation. Those winners will gladly share their knowledge and information with those looking to start something similar. In fact, it is one of the criteria of the award to share your program with others that wish to replicate your program in their community.
It’s also important to understand that you will face challenges. There are difficulties, such as convincing provider agencies to participate in programming. It takes motivated first responders and a community approach, but it is achievable!
Jason- Thank you so much for your time! We look forward to seeing you at the 2019 EMS World Expo for the next Nicholas Rosecrans Award.
Lynn – Thank you Jason.