Girl, 6, recovering from mishap at St. Louis Park country club highlights danger of powerful drains in pools, tubs, spas

Pioneer Press Press

A 6-year-old Edina girl was in serious condition Tuesday at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis after a harrowing accident in the kiddie pool of her family's country club.

Abigail "Abbey" Taylor was injured when she apparently sat over an open drain hole Friday evening in the wading pool of the Minneapolis Golf Club in St. Louis Park, her family wrote in an account of the incident on the Caring Bridge Web site.

The drain's powerful suction tore her intestinal tract, and a surgeon told the family that part of her intestines had been lost. The fact that she was alive was "a medical miracle," the family's account said.

The drain cover had come off, and children were playing with it, according to the account on the Web site, which provides pages for hospital patients to keep family and friends updated on their conditions.

The injury was "severe and life-altering," said Bob Bennett, a Minneapolis attorney representing the family.

Abbey, who just finished kindergarten at Concord Elementary School in Edina, was conscious and able to speak, Bennett said. He said she faces a series of surgeries and nobody can say how long she will remain in the hospital.

Outside his daughter's hospital room Tuesday, Scott Taylor said the family had no comment. The Caring Bridge page on Abbey has since been deactivated.

According to Bennett and the written account online, Abbey was at the country club with her mother and an older sister about 8 p.m. when the accident occurred.

Abbey was able to get out of the pool and walk for a bit before falling over into the adult pool, Bennett said. She was taken immediately to the hospital.

A surgeon told the family that part of her intestines had been lost.

"This could literally be happening if you're holding your child's hand," Bennett said of the accident. "These filtration systems are meant to be covered and secure. You don't think the filtration system will literally tear your organs from your body, and it's not a risk your child would understand."

Ray Clemas, general manager for the golf club, expressed sympathy for the family but referred questions to the attorney for the club's insurance company, who declined to comment.

"To the best of my knowledge, there wasn't anything wrong with the pool," Clemas said.

The club's kiddie pool was drained and roped off Tuesday.

Drains in pools, spas and hot tubs can cause unexpected, horrific accidents.

When the suction - at least 300 pounds per square inch - grabs hold of hair and body parts, it can trap swimmers underwater, causing them to drown even if others are trying to pull them away. Or, as was the case in this wading pool incident, an open drain can suction organs out of the body.

In 1993, Valerie Lakey, 5, was playing in a wading pool at a recreation club in North Carolina when she became caught in the uncovered drain's vortex. The pull was so strong that she was disemboweled. Her legal case settled for $30.9 million.

Federal legislation expected to pass this year is aimed at preventing tragedies, said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who sponsored the bill.

Multiple drains, which break up the force of the suction , would be required for new commercial and residential pools. And anti-entrapment drain covers would be required on all new pools, hot tubs and spas.

New drain covers, which cost $35 to $50, are simple to replace.

"There are more than 6 million pools in this country, and if you look at the vast majority of them, they've got the wrong kind of drain covers," said Alan Korn, director of Safe Kids Worldwide, an agency that works to prevent accidental death and injury of children. "They are flush to the bottom of the pool," rather than being configured to prevent suction from forming.

A more expensive but effective protection is the safety vacuum release system, which can sense if something is being caught in the drain and immediately turns it off. Those are installed outside the pool and cost $500 to $700.

Even with these precautions, Korn said, parents should warn their children to stay away from the drains.

Entrapment accidents have happened across the country over the years. Some have been nearly identical to what happened to the Edina girl.

One of the most high-profile incidents, however, was when 7-year-old Graeme Baker, granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, died after being sucked down into a hot tub.

That experience made the girl's mother, Nancy Baker, one of the country's biggest pool safety advocates. She strongly supports Wasserman Schultz's bill.

"The only thing I can think of is that this tragedy for this family ... hopefully, it will be the thing that turns representatives' heads and compels them to vote for the bill," she said.

Drains at the city of St. Paul's two public swimming pools, Como Pool and Highland Aquatic Center, are screwed down or otherwise prevented from coming off, said Vince Gillespie of the Parks and Recreation Department.

"Ours are all pretty heavy duty," he said. "That type of accident would be really tough to have happen (here)."

State law requires that outlet openings in pools be covered by "grating not readily removable by users."

In the St. Louis Park accident, neither Abbey's family nor emergency personnel immediately realized just how serious the girl's injuries were.

Paramedics were called to the pool shortly after 8 p.m. Friday.

"The mother reported that as the child got out of the kids' pool she appeared pale and unsteady as she walked near the main pool and fell, knocking her tooth out," paramedics wrote. She was then taken to Children's Hospital.

The paramedics' report says nothing about internal injuries.

"At first, we had no idea what was wrong with her, but upon arrival at the ER, it became clear we were talking about something more serious than heat exhaustion, dehydration or some sort of seizure," the family wrote on Caring Bridge.

The surgeon reported after the operation that Abbey was stable but that what was left of her small intestine needed to be removed.

"This was beyond even his 'worse case scenario' that he had prepped us for before surgery," the family's Web account said. The surgeon did not know how she had survived, the Web site said.

On Monday, the family wrote that Abbey was making "baby steps toward recovery." She was talking, was being moved from intensive care and was quick to mention that she had lost a tooth , the family wrote.

Families connected to the Taylors through Concord Elementary and Abbey's Girl Scout troop were gathering at the Wooddale Park baseball field immediately after Edina's 10 a.m. Fourth of July parade today. They plan to sign a card and take a group photo for a poster to send to Abbey.

Emily Gurnon can be reached at or 612-338-6516. Debra O'Connor can be reached at or 651-228-5419. Matt Peiken can be reached at or 651-228-5440.


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