Safety Crusaders: The Story of 4 Real Women
Her Story Touched Hearts
Nancy Baker, 51, is a parent advocate for Safe Kids Worldwide, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that is dedicated to preventing injuries to children. She began working with the group after her 7-year-old daughter, Virginia Graeme Baker (who was known as Graeme), was trapped underwater in a hot tub and drowned. Baker has four surviving daughters, ages 14 to 24.
Sleep was hard to come by. In 2003, a year after the accident, I was reading about pool safety on the Internet late at night and came across the word "entrapment." I learned that drains should have a cover to cut down on the suction; without a cover, a small child's body could be pulled to the drain and held under water.
So Graeme died for the lack of a simple drain cover. While I was online, I also discovered that the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission was about to hold pool-safety hearings in Phoenix. I wrote to them about what had happened to Graeme, and they asked me to speak at the meeting.
It was my first experience as a public speaker, but I didn't have the slightest flutter of nerves. I felt Graeme was with me.
I learned to my dismay after I spoke that the commission could advocate better pool-safety rules but had limited authority to mandate them. That could happen only through legislation. The group's staff recommended that I contact Safe Kids Worldwide to see if I could help them put together a bill.
"You'll relive the accident over and over," the people at Safe Kids warned me when I offered to work with them. "And the process could take a long time." But working with the organization gave me a way to move forward, and I also found that activism is a way to heal.
So many people helped. The press covered Graeme's story. Citizens signed petitions. In May 2006, Safe Kids made entrapment and drowning the focus of National Safe Kids Week. Graeme's grandfather, former Secretary of State James Baker, introduced me to lawmakers, and Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D.-Fla.) introduced pool-safety legislation. I touched hearts, people told me, when I testified before Congress in 2006. I thought, "My God, we may be able to change things."
The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act passed the House and Senate, and in December 2007 the president signed the bill into law. My satisfaction in helping pass the bill is separate from my grief. The act mandates anti-entrapment devices and vacuum-release systems for public pools and spas. My daughter's life, however, was a terrible price to pay for this historic achievement.