Mission Viejo family inspires spa-safety bill

Orange County Reporter
June 26, 2006


MISSION VIEJO - The first time Ryan Kotschedoff sat on an automatic-flush toilet he jumped off, shaking and crying.

The suctioning sound reminded the 3-year-old of his backyard spa, which nearly cost him his life last summer.

The Mission Viejo toddler was escaping the summer heat in the hot tub, with the heat turned off and mom watching closely, when its powerful 6-inch drain forced his body up against the side of the spa and disemboweled him. Ryan was rushed to Mission Hospital, where he went into surgery within minutes and was kept in intensive care for four days.

Doctors repaired the damage by surgically reinserting his bowel through the rectum. Nearly 10 months later, Ryan's appetite still hasn't returned. But his parents realize it could be much worse.

That's why they are on a mission to get legislation passed that would strengthen safety requirements for new and renovated pools and spas.

"In some odd way, since I wasn't there when it happened I feel like it's my job to fix it," said Peter Kotschedoff, who was at work when his son was injured. "As a parent you get angry when something happens to your child that didn't have to."

The proposed bill, AB2977, which the Kotschedoffs helped set in motion, would require new and remodeled pools and spas to have at least two drowning-prevention devices.

"It's giving parents a few extra minutes that could save their child's life," said Judy Barrett Miller, spokeswoman for the California Coalition for Children's Safety and Health, which is sponsoring the measure.

State code requires pools and spas built since 1998 to have one safety device. There is no law for those built before then.

"It just doesn't seem fair that the law protects children who live in homes with new pools and not those who live in the million-plus homes built prior to the Swimming Pool Safety Act of 1997," Miller said.

The bill, written by Assemblyman Gene Mullin (D-South San Francisco), would also require entrapment-proof covers on renovated pool and spa drains. From 1985 to 2004, 33 children ages 14 and under in the country died and 100 were injured after having their hair or body parts stuck in pool and spa drains, according to Safe Kids U.S.A.

If the Kotschedoffs' spa had an entrapment-proof cover, it might have saved Ryan from the most painful experience of his life. Peter Kotschedoff said he had made no renovations to the spa since the family bought the home in 2003, but he assumed everything was working properly.

After making its way through the Assembly, the bill was one vote short on Tuesday of passing at the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee hearing. It will be reconsidered on Tuesday.

Miller said the bill will most likely include technical amendments, which might include making sure those making minor repairs to pools and spas won't be required to install safety devices.

That's one concern of The California Spa and Pool Industry Education Council, which opposes the bill. The trade organization fears minor repairs could start costing hundreds to thousands of dollars and would apply to all pool owners, of which only 7 percent have toddlers at home, its Web site says.

Ed Sotto, who owns Aquanetic Pools and Spas in Laguna Hills, said he worries too many restrictions will hurt his business.

"People buy pools for the beauty of them. If the requirements are unreasonable, they won't buy them or be able to sell their homes."

Safety advocates said the list of safety devices includes options as low as $50. "When the average remodel costs $20,000, isn't a few hundred dollars worth a life?" Miller said.

The Kotschedoffs wish they would have known about all available safety options.

"It's worth what Ryan went through if we could save one small child from drowning," Peter Kotschedoff.



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