FORT RUCKER, Ala. (May 28, 2019) - I remember like it was yesterday. It was almost 0745 and I was nearly at the end of my night shift in the local emergency room, where I'd been working for the past few months. It had been a fairly quiet night, but that was about to change. As I restocked my critical care bays, we received an EMS call alerting us about a 1-year-old in cardiac arrest due to heatstroke. Sadly, upon arrival, all we could do was pronounce the child dead.
After speaking to the distraught mother, we learned she had been on her way to work and stopped to drop off her older child at preschool. She left her other child sleeping in the car seat. While inside the school, the mother got caught up in a conversation with another parent. When she returned to the vehicle 25 minutes later, she found her baby unresponsive. The outside temperature at that time was in the low 80s with a cool breeze. Unfortunately, that was enough to create a deadly situation.
In the past several years, there has been a rise in fatal heat incidents involving children being left in cars. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, heatstroke is one of the leading causes of non-crash-related deaths among children. These occurrences do not discriminate, and even the most conscientious parent can unknowingly leave a sleeping child in a vehicle. Other risk factors include caregivers who aren't used to having a child in their vehicle, or those whose daily routine suddenly changes.
In 2018 alone, 51 children died from vehicular heatstroke, up eight from the previous year. On average, 38 children will die from heat-related deaths due to being trapped inside a vehicle. Fortunately, these types of deaths are preventable if parents and other caregivers remember the slogan "Look Before You Lock." Make a habit to look for children in their car seats before locking your vehicle's doors. This simple but important step can help protect your children from heatstroke and yourself from becoming a part of this deadly statistic.
In addition, according to www.safekids.org, a nonprofit established to help families and communities keep children safe, heatstroke deaths can be reduced by remembering to ACT:
- Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving a child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you're not inside so kids don't get in on their own.
- Create reminders. Keep a stuffed animal or other memento in your child's car seat when it's empty, and move it to the front seat as a visual reminder when your child is in the back seat. Or, place and secure your phone, briefcase or purse in the backseat when traveling with your child.
- Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations.
- Some other tips to help keep your child safe include:
- Invest in a "smart" chest clip, which generates a series of tones that are activated through a wireless receiver to remind a driver that a child is in the car seat within two seconds of turning off the vehicle.
- If someone else is driving your child, or your daily routine has been altered, always check to make sure your child has arrived safely.
Infants and young children are sensitive to the effects of extreme heat and must rely on others to keep them cool and hydrated. Never leave children in a parked car, even if the windows are open. (Remember, pets can also suffer heat-related illnesses, so don't forget them either.) Protect your children and always Look Before You Lock. Don't let a moment of forgetfulness turn into a lifetime of regret.
Hard Facts about Heatstroke
- On average, every 10 days a child dies from heatstroke in a vehicle. In more than half of these deaths, the caregiver forgot the child was in the car.
- A car can heat up 19 degrees in just 10 minutes. And cracking a window doesn't help.
- Young children are particularly at risk, as their bodies heat up 3-5 times faster than an adults.
Did You Know?
- Even at an outside temperature of 60 F, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach 110 F.
- A child can die when his or her body temperature reaches 107 F.
- Deaths caused by children being left in hot cars peak in July.
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