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Swim Safety

Avoid Tragedy in the Water

By Amy Morgan


It wasn’t until late May that the San Antonio weather really started to heat up. A Leon Springs man was fishing at Boerne City Lake, when he became hot during his exertion. The fresh body of water in front of him was irresistible, and he waded in to cool down, unaware of how sharply the bottom of the lake dropped off. When he slipped under the surface, he called for help, Boerne Fire reported, but his friends on the bank could not swim. Unfortunately, the man drowned. 


This tragic accident underscores the need to be safe as you surf and swim this summer. Lonnie Schwirtlich, M.D., the founding partner of Physicians Premier, a free-standing emergency room located west of Highway 281 on Highway 46 near the HEB Plus, has been an emergency physician for the past 42 years. He’s very familiar with the dangers that water can pose, especially for those who are not strong swimmers. 


Most importantly, Dr. Schwirtlich reminds everyone to be aware of each member of their party when near any kind of water. As in the case of the man in Boerne Lake, drowning can happen more quickly than you would imagine.


“Don’t ever leave kids unsupervised around water,” he said. “It only takes five minutes for someone to drown and be past the help of resuscitation.” Another way to protect children is to make sure they learn how to swim as early as possible. 

“You want them to be able to save themselves if they fall in the water for any reason,” Dr. Schwirtlich said. This is a good precaution for adults, as well. It’s never too late to develop the swimming skills to enable someone to feel safe and comfortable around water. The YMCA offers adult swim lessons that teach a core group of aquatic skills every person needs for water safety.  


If a non-swimmer does slip into water over their head, Dr. Schwirtlich reminds a potential rescuer to have something ready to throw to them to tow the person to shore. “Don’t just jump in,” he cautioned, because a person is liable to pull you down with them in their panic. 


Even if you are a strong swimmer, you should wear a life preserver in a boat or on a jet ski to keep you buoyant should you fall or flip. Dr. Schwirtlich, an avid fisherman and surfer, advocates everyone wearing some type of flotation device. He prefers a thin net vest that can inflate in an instant with a CO2 cartridge instead of a bulky jacket. An inflatable vest could 

have been a lifesaver for that unfortunate fisherman 

in Boerne. 


With the water level at Canyon Lake so low, you might not be tempted to dive from the cliffs, but that’s a good rule of thumb at any time, Dr. Schwirtlich warned. Even if you check for obstacles, a submerged log could drift into your landing spot while you are climbing up the cliff. A careless dive is not worth a broken neck! 


Be cautious of the shorelines along freshwater bodies of water. They’re a prime nesting spot for Water Moccasins. These aggressive snakes will come after you if you disturb them. Their bite is poisonous and requires immediate treatment. If bitten, keep pressure and ice on the wound to prevent venom from spreading and seek attention at an emergency room that stocks antivenom, Dr. Schwirtlich said. 


Another caution, don’t drink alcohol while operating a watercraft. The laws for drinking and driving a boat are similar to those with a car. You could be arrested or, even worse, cause an accident because of your slowed reaction time. 


Before you plunge into one of Texas’ beautiful bodies of water, make a plan to ensure the safety of everyone in your party. And know the professionals at Physicians Premier freestanding emergency room, located west of Highway 281 on Highway 46 near the HEB Plus, are ready to help.  

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