Each summer, we hear dreadful stories of drowning deaths. Early in June, Country star Granger Smith's 3-year-old son tragically drowned at the family's home pool. But for the Bjorn family and possibly the whole Colton community, none have been more impactful than the loss of 4-year-old Kirsten Bjorn as the result of a drowning accident at daycare in April last year.
"It has been devastating for not only my family, but for the whole, entire community," said Kirsten's sister Mikaela Bjorn. "So for me to just share her story and keep her in remembrance in the community is helpful to me, just having a little peace, but also just my family and the community to always remember her."
August is Drowning Impact Awareness Month, and Mikaela is taking the time to spread awareness about the dangers of water, prevention strategies and the devastating impacts of a drowning. In fact, it's not just during August, but Mikaela has been spreading awareness constantly since her sister's death.
"Water is deadly and a lot of people don't realize that in young kids that it can do as much damage as it can do," Mikaela said. "Just be mindful. Truly, if you have your own kids, just be mindful that it happens and it happens to the people that don't expect it. It happens every day. And it really does change lives."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning every day. Of those, two are children aged 14 or younger. Drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States.
To Mikaela, Kirsten was like a daughter. Mikaela, who is 12 years older than Kirsten, was there for her sister's birth at Oregon Health and Sciences University and babysat the unicorn-loving little girl nearly every day in the summers. For her and the Bjorn family, Mikaela said the healing process has been "rocky."
"There are no words," Mikaela said. "If I'm going to be completely honest, it's an awful, awful, awful thing.
"My family will never come back from losing my sister because my sister was the shining star."
But Mikaela is finding some healing in not allowing her sister to be forgotten and is pushing forward to prevent drownings.
When it comes to prevention, the CDC offers three main ideas: swimming skills help, seconds count (learn CPR) and life jackets can reduce risks. Mikaela is taking these concepts to heart and is focusing her efforts around those ideas.
A recent Colton graduate, Mikaela used her senior project to host a daddy-daughter dinner dance to raise funds for kids' swimming lessons at the Molalla Aquatic Center. She said it sold out once everyone found out it was happening. She raised more than $2,000 to fund a scholarship for Colton youth. Those interested in the scholarship can visit the aquatic center to fill out a short application.
She hopes to hold another daddy-daughter dinner dance or other fundraising event to keep the scholarship going. Others can donate to the fund by contacting Mikaela at 971-930-0488.
Mikaela also donated 11 life jackets to the preschoolers who would have been in Kirsten's class at Colton Academy Preschool.
In the future, Mikaela wants to bring more miracles like Kirsten into the world. Her dream is to become a midwife at OHSU and has already began the process this summer studying at Clackamas Community College. She'll have her associate's degree by 2020.
"Just having that impact on me of her being the best thing in my life, and her entering the world, I want to do that for so many other people," Mikaela said. "I want to help them have better lives and bring babies into the world every day."
If you see Mikaela holding a unicorn phone case, or keychain or t-shirt, that's to remember Kirsten.
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