Special needs kids buck the odds and learn to swim

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Ever since 3-year-old Cobi Sky could walk, her mom’s been worried about her drowning.

She doesn’t worry so much anymore.

“I know she can survive; it’s just a comfort level for me that I know we are OK,” said Atiya Young.

Children with special needs are at an especially high risk for drowning, but they're often turned away from swimming lessons due to health issues.

Now a Winter Park doctor is making sure all children can save themselves from drowning.

Dr. Harvey Barnett developed a program to teach special needs children, including ones who are paralyzed, to save themselves in the water

Chance Kern has spina bifida. His mom was turned away from regular swimming classes until she found Barnett.

“He is enjoying himself and I don’t have to worry about him drowning,” said the boy’s mother, Amanda Kern.

Doctors said it’s nothing short of a miracle.

Chance's legs are partially paralyzed, but he glides in the water and kicks his legs. Even his doctor didn’t think this was possible.

“Amazing, absolutely amazing,” said neurosurgeon Dr. Keyne Johnson. “I am just as thrilled as his parents.”

Now Chance is able to turn over to float so he can save himself.

Creating the program and getting certified to work with special needs children wasn’t easy.

“It took me years of learning and trying to figure it out,” said Barnett. “We can’t afford an accident.”

Barnett believes every child can learn to swim, even Analize Garcia who is paralyzed from the waist down.

“Just knowing that she has the skill set to be safe in the water, I have peace of mind,” said Ninoshka Garcia.

The program has also brought renewed confidence for the special needs children.

“To see what he can accomplish in the water is helping him be stronger outside the water,” said Kern.

Chance just started standing on his own. His doctor says it’s due to the strength he is building from his swimming lessons.

Dr. Barnett is now certifying four instructors to teach special needs children how to swim. For more information visit Special Aquatic Needs Development.

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