Sandra Testo-Michaud and The Katelyn Foundation
by Sandra Testo-Michaud
No parent should have to experience the heartbreaking loss of a child. No family should have to bear the far-reaching emotional burden experienced with such a loss. Every year some 3,500 children drown in the United States. Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury death to children 4 and under nationwide, the second leading cause for children 14 and under and the fifth leading cause for all age groups. If drowning was a disease… it could be considered a pandemic. BUT DROWNING IS PREVENTABLE!!
January 27, 2004 is the day my life changed. That was the day my 2-year-old little girl Katelyn T. Michaud drowned in my backyard pool. Katelyn and I were just following our normal routine at home. Almost every mid morning Katelyn looked forward to her milk, cookies and Dora and that is what I did that very same morning. At that time I walked into my office to check my phone messages. Moments later, I went to check on Katelyn and she was gone…..Katelyn had slipped out of a sliding glass door , and I found her floating at the deep end of my “newly built-in swimming pool!” She was pronounced dead at the local hospital.
How could this happen to me? Safety has always been a top priority of mine. My friends and family often joked that my house was like Fort Knox. I had magnetic locks on the cabinets, a safety gate at the top of the stairs and bottom of the stairs, we installed plastic barriers at the top of the sliding glass doors for extra safety and safety handles on the doorknobs throughout the house. The bottom line is…..”Toddlers are quick and drowning is silent!” Burying my youngest daughter gave birth to a wonderful cause: The Katelyn Foundation, which promotes child safety and awareness. In 2006 my brother Robert J. Testo, III and I started The Katelyn Foundation. (My marriage broke up from the stress of Katelyn’s death so my brother has been a source of emotional support.)
Through community fundraisers and generous donors, The Katelyn Foundation is able to provide swim lessons to children whose families cannot afford the fee. This is achieved through a program called “Katelyn’s Aquarium”, which includes lessons through local YMCA’s & Recreation Centers in Pasco, Pinellas & Hernando Counties. In 2011, “Katelyn’s Aquarium” will be available in Citrus & Hillsborough Counties. The motto for the program is “Learning how to swim is a necessity, not a luxury!”
The nonprofit foundation is dedicated to educating the public about water safety and pays for swimming lessons for children ages six months to 12-years old to prevent accidents such as the one that took my Katelyn. In 2010 my foundation provided about 300 children with free swimming lessons and since this program started it has provided close to 800 children with free swimming lessons as it keeps growing. Last summer I became a certified as a swim instructor and now I will be teaching swim lessons at my local YMCA, and including in my own backyard in a “new” swimming pool that was kindly donated to me from the official pool builder (The Pool Guyz) from Extreme Home Makeover: Home Edition.
I also promote “The Designated Child Watcher Program” in an effort to increase pool safety awareness, which is basically volunteering adults pledging to do nothing else but to watch over children in the swimming pool. I am also very active with SAFE kids~ on the Pool Safety committee. I am also happy to have partnered with PoolSafely.gov and The Consumer Product Safety Commission to become a Pool Safely Campaign Safety Leader.
Along with being involved with numerous organizations, I have received a Proclamation from my home town Mayor, Scott McPherson, in April of 2009 and April of 2010 for National Drowning Prevention Month. I was also a recipient of the “Service Above Self” award in 2009 from Keystone Rotary Club and 2010 from Trinity Rotary Club “by working diligently to make free swim lessons available for young children at risk of drowning”. In March of 2010 I won the nomination for “Woman of Distinction” by Suntrust Bank. In addition, during the summer of 2010 The Katelyn Foundation was also honored when it won “Outstanding Youth Organization Award” from the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce.
For the 3rd year in a row I received a Proclamation from my home town Mayor for “National Drowning Prevention”. And most recently, I was also honored to received the “The Community Lifesaving Award” (Southern Region) National Award by the National Drowning Prevention Alliance. I was humbled to received this recognition during their National Drowning Prevention Symposium held in Colorado Springs, Colorado in April 2011.
It is evident that I made a decision during my personal tragedy to honor my Katelyn by moving forward for my family, my community, and myself, in a positive and valuable way. I encourage all mothers and fathers that have lost a child or love ones to a drowning to please come together and do the same. Whether it’s to volunteer your time or get out there to talk about and educate others on “water safety” and “drowning prevention”, you too can make a difference.
Thank you so much for your support & God Bless!
“Teaching a child to swim is a necessity, not a luxury!”