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Virginia Graeme Baker’s Story

Virginia Graeme Baker was lovingly known to her friends and family as Graeme (pronounced Graham).  The granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker, Graeme went with her mother, Nancy, and four sisters to a family friend’s home for a graduation party on June 15, 2002.  The focal point of the party was the swimming pool and hot tub.

Graeme had worn her swimsuit to the party and jumped into the pool as soon as they arrived. A short time later, Graeme’s older sister ran to her mother and said that Graeme was under water in the hot tub and would not come up.  Nancy ran to the hot tub, but could only see a dark figure under the bubbles obscuring the surface.

Nancy jumped into the hot tub and discovered the horrific sight of her daughter’s unconscious body on the bottom. Not realizing that her daughter was trapped underwater by the suction of the whirlpool’s drain, Nancy desperately and unsuccessfully tried to pull her daughter out.

Two adult men at the party came and helped, finally managing to free Graeme and pulling so hard the drain cover broke in the process.  Lifesaving efforts were immediately performed on the little girl, but she couldn’t be revived. She was flown to Fairfax Hospital in Virginia and pronounced dead. 

Even at that time, her mother still did not understand what circumstances had led to her child drowning. The memory of seeing Graeme’s body, moving only by the current created from the whirlpool, haunts Nancy to this day.

Seven-year-old Graeme was a member of the community swim and diving team and had been swimming unassisted since she was 3 years old — but her death is listed as a drowning.  She actually drowned by entrapment after being pinned underwater by hundreds of pounds of suction force from the drain of the hot tub.

Nancy struggled with understanding how it could have happened:  Graeme was a strong swimmer -- it just didn’t make sense. What Nancy learned following Graeme’s death has given her the resolve to ensure her daughter’s death was not in vain.  The preventability of Graeme’s death makes the loss more difficult and infuriating for Nancy to accept, and it is the major motivating factor in her work with Safe Kids Worldwide.

Nancy has mobilized other parents to lobby for federal advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C. Her efforts include testifying before the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2004 to discuss the need for anti-entrapment devices in pools and hot tubs. She has testified on Capitol Hill and has told her story through nationwide media outlets, including Larry King Live, CNN and in dozens of print and television pieces.

Nancy has made pool and hot tub entrapment a nationally-recognized issue. She is working to ensure that mandatory standards replace the voluntary standards that were in place when her child died but implemented in the building and servicing of pools and hot tubs in a haphazard and random fashion.  This, she believes, has resulted in confusion within the industry, a lack of understanding of the danger and the solutions available to pool and hot tub owners, and ultimately tragic deaths and injuries. 

The industry has suggested that it is the responsibility of homeowners to protect against entrapment.  Given the lack of public awareness of the danger, coupled with a lack of understanding of available solutions by consumers and pool professionals alike, Nancy feels it is a grave risk to assume that pool owners can, or will, protect children from drowning by entrapment.

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