Summertime. For millions of children, it’s the unbridled exuberance and revelry of freedom from school and schedules, where imagination and innocence means anything goes, from sun up to sun down. It’s the stuff of youth that builds the nostalgia of later years.
Few parents anticipate tragedy in these times, but for many children warm weather can lead to vehicle-related hyperthermia, a very real threat with sometimes fatal results.
Deona "Dee" Ryan, RN, CLC, LNC, director of family services at HCA’s Summerville Medical Center, knows this first hand. In 2004, her one year-old daughter, Aslyn, died of hyperthermia after a baby-sitter left her in a vehicle unattended.
Ever since, Dee has been an unwavering advocate and volunteer for KidsAndCars.org. She said she had a choice to make – "to live with the pain or to become an activist and try to prevent such pain for other parents." She is now a vice-president for the organization.
KidsAndCars.org was established, thanks to a grant from Toyota, to educate parents about the dangers surrounding children in and around motor vehicles. The organization distributes educational materials to new parents at all HCA healthcare facilities.
Dee said, “KidsAndCars.org has now sent more than 150,000 of our ‘Look Before You Lock’ new parent information cards to hospitals nationwide and the requests continue to roll in. We are providing them free of charge to hospital birthing centers to include in their new parent take-home packets.”
In discussing her advocacy work to help protect children, Dee said, “I am always available to help. That has been my focus after losing Aslyn in 2004. I want to do whatever I can to help keep other parents and families from suffering from this type of tragedy…. I am always willing to do any type of presentation or education around this cause. I have traveled all over the country doing lectures, been on TV and radio frequently raising awareness and just got off a radio call this morning. Unfortunately, I know the facts and can recite them in my sleep.”
So far in 2012, 26 children have died from vehicle-related hyperthermia. What’s remarkable about the statistics from the Department of Geosciences, SFSU is that 52% of fatalities from 1998 through 2011 were children that were "forgotten" about by their caregivers.
What most people don’t realize is that temperatures don’t have to be exceptionally high to become deadly. An automobile’s interior can exceed 20 degrees the outside temperature within ten minutes. Even in sixty degree weather, temperatures can exceed 100 degrees in a car, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A child can’t process heat the way adults do, which causes their body temperatures to rise three to five times more quickly than adults. The NHTSA and KidsAndCars.org suggest the following tips to prevent child fatalities:
And get into the habit, Dee said, that you “always check your back seat".