Jenny Stanley of Columbus, Ga., faced reporters recently to talk about a parent’s worst nightmare.
Stanley had allowed her 6-year-old daughter Sidney to play next door at her best friend’s house. When it was time for dinner, the little girl wasn’t at her friend’s house. A search started, and Stanley got a phone call.
“I heard a familiar voice say, ‘We found Sidney and she is very blue.’ The police and paramedics were trying to resuscitate her and I heard myself scream. I just remember screaming, ‘Please don’t stop.’ The heat just overtook her.
“I don’t want any other family to go through this pain,” Jenny told the reporters. She spoke at a news conference announcing a campaign called, “Where’s baby? Look before you lock.”
The campaign aims to educate everyone who travels in a car with young children about the dangers of hyperthermia, or heatstroke. The nonprofit group Safe Kids Worldwide, a partner in the campaign, says more than 500 children have died in overheated cars in the United States since 1998.
Some readers might assume the majority of such cases happen in warmer, southern states, and they’d be right. However, it’s not just a warm-state problem. Children have died in overheated cars in February and with outdoor temperatures as mild as 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Safe Kids has documented three such deaths in Maine over the past two decades.
Inside a closed car — or even one with the windows rolled down a couple of inches — the temperature can rise 20 degrees in 10 minutes. A child’s body warms up from three to five times faster than an adult’s. Dr. Michael Baumann at Maine Medical Center’s emergency department says death or serious injury can soon follow.
“They [vehicles] heat up remarkably fast, and the child’s body is not able to regulate it,” Baumann says. “And they’re not always able to get out.” Baumann echoes others in urging that children never be left alone in cars.
While statistics on heatstroke fatalities among children are heartbreaking, there are many more cases of near misses, where children have been rescued. These incidents can result in serious symptoms including dizziness, sluggishness, hot flushed skin, loss of consciousness, rapid heartbeat or hallucinations.
Organizers of the educational campaign urge those who transport young children, such as to and from child care, to use reminders. When you drop off a child, call or text all other caregivers so all of you know where your child is at all times. Place a purse, briefcase, gym bag, cellphone or other needed item at your next stop near the child’s seat. Set the alarm on your cellphone or computer calendar as a reminder to drop off your child at child care.
Sometimes children find their way into empty cars and trucks; roughly 30 percent of heatstroke deaths in the United States result from children playing in unattended vehicles. Experts urge everyone to lock their vehicles routinely in order to keep curious youngsters out. And they urge everyone who transports a youngster never to leave the child alone in a vehicle, not even for a minute.
Suzanne Grace is state coalition coordinator for Safe Kids Maine. She says police can cite parents for neglect if their children are left at risk in hot cars.
“They don’t want to ticket parents, Grace says, “but unfortunately sometimes that’s what’s needed to make people pay attention.”
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