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Content provided by Thomas W. Tryon, MD, MBA, FAAP; UCA Pediatric Section Chair
Every year as the summer approaches and the temperatures rise, I am reminded of one of the most tragic and preventable injuries or death that we see in infants and young children – that is children being trapped inside a car and dying of heat stroke. The most heartbreaking are the quiet, sleeping infants appropriately in the back seat of the vehicle that are accidentally forgotten about and left. Most of the time, these tragic accidents occur because of a change in schedule and a different parent planning to drop the infant off at daycare.
One of the most poignant stories is of an infant named Sophie, whose parents were in the healthcare field in St. Louis. Here is Sophie’s story (https://www.stlouischildrens.org/health-resources/community-education/safety-stop/sophies-kiss):
“One hot summer day, two loving parents faced the unthinkable tragedy of losing a child. On the way to work, baby Sophie sat quietly in the back seat of her parents’ vehicle. Changes to their regular routine led them to miss their usual stop at daycare that morning, and they unintentionally left Sophie in the car as the temperature rose throughout the following hours.
“When we first became parents, we read all the “how-to” books,” her parents remember. “We bought outlet covers and baby gates. We locked up our medicines and installed cabinet locks to keep our little ones safe. Accidentally leaving one of our children in the car is not something we ever imaged we could do. Our kids are the lights of our lives, and such a failure didn’t seem possible.”
In Sophie’s memory, her parents and St. Louis Children’s Hospital developed Sophie’s KISS (Keeping Infants Safe and Secure), an outreach program aimed at educating parents about the risks of hyperthermia (overheating) and providing simple tips and tools to prevent similar accidents.
“Our hearts broke that day, and we still grieve her loss. We hope that by reminding parents to think about car safety and by providing them with simple tips, others may be spared the heartache we have known.”
According to the Kansas City-area organization Kids and Cars (www.kidsandcars.org), since 1990 there have been almost 1,000 children nationally who have died from heatstroke while being trapped in a car. In 2018, 54 children died which is the most of any year since data has been collected. In 2019 there were 53 children who died. We know that 88% of deaths occur in children under 3 years of age and 55% occur in children under one. According to Kids and Cars, there is a greenhouse effect in vehicles that cause the vehicle to heat up VERY quickly. In fact, within 10 minutes, and even with the windows cracked, inside temperatures in a car can reach well over 100 degrees. Most parents do not realize that 80% of heating inside the car occurs within the first 10 minutes. In addition, because a child’s body overheats 3-5 times faster than an adult, children have been known to die from heatstroke even when ambient temperatures outside the car are as low as 60 degrees.
Kids and Cars recommends the following to work to prevent child vehicular heat stroke deaths:
Make it a habit of opening the back door every time you park to ensure no one is left behind.
To enforce this habit, place an item that you can’t start your day without in the back seat - employee badge, laptop, phone, handbag, etc.
Ask your child care provider to call you right away if your child hasn’t arrived as scheduled.
Clearly say out loud and confirm who is getting each child out of the vehicle. Miscommunication can lead to everyone thinking someone else removed the child.
Make sure children cannot get into a parked car:
Keep vehicles locked at all times, especially in the garage or driveway. Ask neighbors and visitors to do the same.
Never leave car keys within reach of children.
Teach children to honk the horn if they become stuck inside a car.
If a child is missing, immediately check the inside, floorboards and trunk of all vehicles in the area very carefully
More information can be found on their website, from the Kids and Cars Heatstroke Fact Sheet (https://www.kidsandcars.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Heatstroke-fact-sheet.pdf). As we enjoy our Summer 2020, please keep in mind how easy it is for our cars to become heatstroke death traps for the youngest and most vulnerable of children in our families. I wish you and your families a safe and enjoyable Summer.
Urgent Care Association
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