Learning to swim with sickle cell

I seem to be turning into some kind of expert on this. I recently went searching – again – for websites about swimming and sickling, and what should I find but my own post on the first page of Google results! I feel well qualified to be an expert because I have taken Abrantie swimming many times and we’ve only had bad consequences a couple of times – and I’ve learned from them! Mind you, there’s not much to it. Swim in warm water, stay active to keep warm, don’t stay in too long and get out and get dressed before you start to feel cold. Wetsuits may help, if you can make that investment (we haven’t).

However, Abrantie’s school has just started its annual swimming lessons for the whole school, and I thought they may need this spelled out in a little more detail, seeing as how they’ve probably never come across sickle cell before – except perhaps in high school genetics lessons. Also, swimming classes generally follow a particular format that might need to be modifed for a child with sickle cell, whereas with recreational swimming you can do what you like, get out when you like, and you don’t have to stand around (getting cold) waiting for your turn with an instructor. So with DadaK’s permission I wrote an information sheet for the school and the swimming instructor. I’ve uploaded it as a Word document in case anyone wants to modify and use for their own situation.

Today was the first day of swimming lessons and all seemed to go well. Abrantie got wet, got individual attention, had fun, and didn’t get cold or – so far – sick. The catch was that the warmest pool was the baby pool, and it was a bit hard learning to swim in water that was only knee-deep. He’s hoping that tomorrow they’ll try out the bigger pool, which is heated and indoors, though not as hot as the baby pool. Hope that works out okay!

12 thoughts on “Learning to swim with sickle cell

  1. Just an update – 4 days into swimming and all is well. He’s still in baby pool but told me yesterday, with great satisfaction, that he can back-stroke.

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  3. Thank you so much for this, I tried to learn how to swim years ago at Jr. College and ended up in the hospital for almost two weeks. The swimming lesson was fun and educational and my confidence was at an all time high. I got out of the pool and headed for the shower, everything went down hill during the shower, I went straight to the ER.

    I am 41 with sickle cell and I have always been around water and around black people that can’t swim. Why on earth would you have a BBQ by the lake and you can not swim? I also have been in the ocean many times.

    There is a big movement going on to teach minorities how to swim, adults and children alike. If, I can not learn how to swim, water safety is just as important. I am going to have to try and face this again.


  4. Hi, thanks for telling me your story & good luck with trying again, I hope it works out for you. Not long after my last post on this Abrantie also had pain after swimming & it put me off taking him for a while, but then last summer I thought of getting him a wetsuit & started teaching him to swim again & he has been fine since then, touch wood! He’s even been swimming in the sea with his friends, which I wouldn’t have been game to do with him.

    In terms of black people not swimming, it’s much the same here – at least for African-background people. Abrantie’s older brother, now a teenager, is very sensitive to the fact that we rarely see black people at the pool & doesn’t like to go as he feels too conspicuous. I hate that! It holds him back. fortunately the younger ones haven’t been as aware of it & don’t let it hold them back.

  5. I know your post is quite old but i have a 5 year old son with Sickle Cell. He has had success and some pain from swimming but in general mom still lets him go 🙂 can’t cap life!!! But you mentioned a wet suit and we have thought about this before (especially being in Michigan with lakes) how did this work out if you used one? So happy to hear that the ocean is okay, i thought it would be, but wasn’t completely sure. P.S. we of course are black folks and we LOVE to swim!!!!

    • Hi Lana, thanks for dropping by and commenting. The wetsuit has been a great success, we found one fairly cheaply online. You need to get one that’s not too thick and that’s a bit thinner gauge under the arms for movement.

      We cheated and went and tried one on in a surf shop first to make sure of the size. He actually swims in heated pools without one now, but we try and keep him moving; seems to be when he stops that he gets chilled & then the pain comes on. But I make sure he always wears it at the beach as the water is colder. Although now he’s nearly 13 he’s starting to feel a bit more self-conscious about that, especially as he’s not a very strong swimmer & of course wetsuits are associated with the cool dudes who surf.

      Like you say, can’t cap life, and lucky his parents have made the decision that it’s up to him to manage this and take the risks. I’m actually the one that’s paranoid about it!

      Good to hear that black folks in the US love to swim 🙂 I’m sure in another generation they all will in Australia too 🙂 The kids love it of course it just takes a bit of adjusting (and trust) for parents coming from non-swimming cultures.

      Oh I just remembered – the easy way to get a wetsuit on is to put plastic bags over your feet so they slide into the legs of the suit and you don’t spend 10 minutes trying to wriggle it on – they can be pretty tight and of course they need to be.

      Enjoy your swimming 🙂

      • Okay, you are in Australia and the ocean there is too cold?!! I would hope on very got days he could swim in the Ocean without the suit, as long as the water temp is 80 degrees or above. I suppose its according to the time of year. Yes, we may look into a wet suit, so thank you for the pointers. ;). Mine is learning at 5 to make some life choices since he will have to determine as he grows what is and isn’t worth the pain. It can be scary as a parent though, my husband is a lot worse than me about him taking some chances. We are living and learning everyday. 😊

      • I’m so happy to hear that a set suit worked for you! I have just adopted 2 Zambian girls after their sister died from what was likely an untreated sickle crisis and infection. My daughter wants to learn to swim desperately. We have tried twice. Both causing crisis, one of which landed us in the hospital. Next year she will go to a school with a swimming unit. I very much would like her to be able to participate. Are the any wetsuits that are better for this purpose. I’m very nervous about trying again. It is so hard to see her in pain!

      • Hi Joy, that’s very sad to hear you haven’t had success with swimming. I can’t recommend any particular brands of wet suit, we just got a cheapish one and it seemed fine. The main thing is having flexibility in the arm pits. These days the kids never wear one in the pool and they are find as long as the pool is heated and they don’t get cold. We only go in summer. We are more cautious about going to the beach because the water can be colder, plus the wind chill factor could cause problems. Good luck with it. Do come back & tell me how you go.

  6. Hi Lana, yes I guess that does sound weird, that the ocean is cold. Actually it depends on the currents and surprisingly, the water can be warmer in autumn than it is in summer. Although in summer you soon warm up once you’re in. But I think he may have gone swimming at the beach with his school, without any problems, so probably I’m just paranoid. And with good reason, it’s hard to see them go through such pain and also knowing that it can be inflicting long term damage to the bone (as it has with his dad). But the good news is he hasn’t often had pain after swimming, so he gets to keep doing it. Good luck with figuring out all this stuff around your little one.

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