Kathy Belotto, from
Broward General Medical Center’s intensive care unit on Tuesday. ‘They
gave him graham crackers. He’s actually eating solid food now.
Between 100 and 209 people are trapped by whirlpool
intake valves each year across the country, according to the spa
industry. Like Jeremy, most escape with bruised bellies.
Some, however, are not as lucky.
In 1994, a 12-year-old girl drowned in the outdoor
whirlpool at the Fontainebleau Hilton Spa in Miami Beach. While she was
competing with friends to see who could stay underwater longest, the
intake valve sucked in her hair.
Last year, an Il-year-old Missouri girl died after
she tried to retrieve a ball from a spa’s intake drain. It sucked in
her entire leg.
In Broward County, such incidents are relatively
rare, averaging one per year out of roughly 60,000 emergency calls. But
rescue officials say the issue is critical in South Florida. home to one
of the nation’s highest concentrations of pools and spas.
Most Jacuzzi entrapments begin as they did with
Jeremy Belotto —frolicking in the absence of adult supervision. In
Jeremy’s case, his mother had ducked inside for a moment to help
another son change out of his swimsuit.
Jeremy dived to the bottom of the whirlpool, where
the drain sucked in his swimsuit drawstring. Thrashing underwater, he
could not break free.
His brother was swimming in the adjacent pool, and
noticed Jeremy had vanished. He scrambled over and jumped in.
"I tried lifting him," recounted
10-year-old Nick Belotto. "He wouldn’t budge. I ran inside and
screamed for my mom.
Kathy Belotto sprinted out and leapt into the
whirlpool. She yanked her son out of his swimsuit and performed CPR.
Although he was initially limp and not breathing, she
was able to resuscitate her son. Jeremy suffered a bruised stomach;
doctors expect him to make a full recovery.
Spa industry officials say the problem begins with
powerful vacuum pumps, which on average suck in 80 gallons of water per
minute. It requires roughly 380 pounds of force to remove a person stuck
to an intake grate.
‘A kid could never release himself from that,"
said Steve Finn, president of American Whirlpool Products Corp., a
Hollywood whirlpool and spa manufacturer.
Compounding the problem are flat grates over intake
valves and the absence of a second pipe that can draw in water if the
first one becomes blocked.
Neither are required by state law, which places no
safety requirements on home whirlpools.
The result: A vacuum force that can disembowel a
child in a matter of seconds. Or keep him pinned underwater until he
"I’ve been in this business since 1967, and I
can tell you, this kind of accident is far too common, said Ron
Schroader, technical director at Vac-Alert Industries Inc., a Fort
Pierce manufacturer of spa safety devices. "There’s absolutely no
legislation governing this whatsoever."
Short of stricter state laws, rescue officials say
there are steps whirlpool owners can take to avoid such accidents:
Install a second intake pipe: cover the intake site with a raised rather
than flat grate; add a "vacuum breaker."
These devices inject air into the pumping system when
the intake grate is blocked. They cost several hundred dollars. take
half an hour to install and require no maintenance.
For the Belotto family, Monday’s whirlpool accident
was nearly the second tragedy to strike their family in the past several
years. Jeremy’s father, Joseph Belotto, was among five Fort
Lauderdale parks workers fatally shot in 1996 by a disgruntled former