June 13, 2013

Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt stresses danger of leaving children unattended in vehicles








With temperatures rising in Middle Tennessee, health care professionals at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt are stressing the danger of leaving children unattended in vehicles. This year in the United States, there have already been 11 deaths of children due to hyperthermia or heatstroke from being left unattended in a vehicle.

According to physicians at Children’s Hospital, a child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s, and when the body’s temperature reaches 104 degrees, the internal organs begin to shut down. Children are placed at extreme risk for severe hyperthermia and heat stroke in just minutes.

Each summer, the emergency department treats several children who are left alone in hot cars, which is illegal in Tennessee.

“Unfortunately, vehicle-related heat deaths continue to happen every year, and they can happen to anyone,” said Sarah Haverstick, Safe Children program manager for Children’s Hospital. “Caregivers often experience a break in their everyday routine and simply forget that the child is in the car. It is extremely important, especially for new parents, to make a habit of checking the entire car before walking away and locking the doors.”

Aaron and Stephanie Gray know all too well the devastating consequences of leaving a child in a hot car. Their 5-month-old son, Joel, died 10 months ago from heat stroke after accidentally being left in a hot car for hours.

A hectic schedule coupled with a last-minute change in the school drop-off routine was enough to make Stephanie think she had dropped Joel off at day care when he actually was sleeping quietly in his rear-facing car seat. Stephanie went about her routine, thinking nothing was amiss, and realized that she hadn’t dropped him off in the morning when she returned to the day care later that day. By the time Joel was found, still strapped into his car seat, it was too late to save him.

Now, the Grays are dedicated to raising awareness of the danger of leaving your child in an unattended vehicle. They want to stress that the most important piece of preventing these deaths is awareness.

“If people are simply aware that this could happen to them, and have a system in place to double check on a child in the back seat, these unnecessary deaths can be prevented,” said Stephanie Gray.

Haverstick said community members who see a child left alone in a hot vehicle should call 911 immediately.

Children’s Hospital offers the following tips to avoid vehicle-related heat injuries or death:

  • Use cell phone or computer reminders to make sure children have been dropped off at the desired location.
  • Place an item that you always take from the car into your destination in the backseat with your child.
  • Teach your children never to play in vehicles in order to prevent them from accidentally locking themselves inside one. Be sure to lock all doors and windows to vehicles on your property.
  • If your child is missing, check vehicles and trunks first.

For more information, please visit Children’s Hospital’s website for detailed safety information http://www.childrenshospital.vanderbilt.org/heatsafety.