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Safe Kids Middlesex County and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Remind Community to Never Leave a Child Alone in a Car

Diana Starace

Diana Starace, Coordinator for the Injury Prevention Program at RWJUH’s Level I Trauma Center and Safe Kids Middlesex County, demonstrates how quickly the temperature can rise inside a car. During 2018 there were 52 deaths of children who died from heatstroke while left unattended in vehicles in states across the country - up from 43 the year before. There are already 24 reported deaths across the US in 2019, with several months of hot temperatures still to come. In response to this serious public health and safety issue, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital New Brunswick’s Level I Trauma Center Injury Prevention Program seeks to raise awareness and educate the public about this potential and preventable danger.

 

(New Brunswick) - During 2018 there were 52 deaths of children who died from heatstroke while left unattended in vehicles in states across the country - up from 43 the year before. There are already 24 reported deaths across the US in 2019, with several months of hot temperatures still to come.

In response to this serious public health and safety issue, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital New Brunswick’s Level I Trauma Center Injury Prevention Program seeks to raise awareness and educate the public about this potential and preventable danger, which has dominated headlines recently following the tragic death of twin one-year-olds who were accidentally left unattended in a car in New York. In that case, the twins’ father thought he had dropped them off at daycare before going to work.

According to Diana Starace, Coordinator for the Injury Prevention Program and Safe Kids Middlesex County, at RWJUH’s Level I Trauma Center, many people are shocked to learn how hot inside the car can actually get. On an 80 degree day, the temperature inside of a car can rise 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes and keep getting hotter with each passing minute. And cracking the window doesn’t help.

Heatstroke sets in when the body isn’t able to cool itself quickly enough. A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than adult’s, making them more susceptible to heatstroke. When a child’s internal temperature reaches 104 degrees, major organs begin to shut down, and when that temperature reaches 107 degrees, the child can die.

“We don’t want to see this happen to any family,” said Starace. “That’s why we’re asking everyone to help protect kids from this very preventable tragedy by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute.”

RWJUH and Safe Kids remind the public that children should not be left alone in a car at any age. Cars should be locked and the keys stored out of sight and out of reach of children.

Starace adds, “Vehicular heatstroke is largely misunderstood by the general public. Many parents are misinformed and would like to believe that they could never “forget” their child in a vehicle. The most dangerous mistake a parent or caregiver can make is to think leaving a child alone in a vehicle could never happen to them or their family. In more than 55 percent of these cases, the person responsible for the child’s death unknowingly left them in the vehicle. In most situations this happens to the most loving, caring and protective parents. It has happened to a teacher, dentist, social worker, police officer, nurse, clergyman, soldier, and even a rocket scientist. It can happen to anyone.”

Individuals can reduce the number of deaths and near misses by remembering to ACT:

  • A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you’re not in it so kids don’t get in on their own.
  • C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you’re not following your normal routine.
  • T: 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. One call could save a life.

Following is a Q and A provided by Safe Kids Middlesex and Safe Kids USA with more information on this important topic:

Q: What is heatstroke?
A: Heatstroke, also known as hyperthermia, is a condition that occurs when the body isn’t able to cool itself quickly enough and the body temperature rises to dangerous levels.

Q: What are symptoms of heat stroke?
A: Symptoms may include dizziness; disorientation; agitation; confusion; sluggishness; seizure; hot, dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty; loss of consciousness; rapid heartbeat or hallucinations.

Q: Why are children at such great risk in cars?
A: Children are at great risk for heatstroke because a child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s. When the body’s temperature reaches 104 degrees, the internal organs start to shut down. When it reaches 107 degrees, the child can die.

Q: Why are we hearing so much about this now?
A: Safe Kids is working with partners around the country to raise awareness about this preventable tragedy. When the sun is out, and even on cloudy days, the inside of a car can become much hotter than the temperature outside. In just 10 minutes a car can heat up 19 degrees. On an 80 degree day, the inside of a closed car can quickly exceed 100 degrees. Cracking a window does not help keep the inside of a car cool.

Q: In what ways are children dying?
A: Children die as a result of being left unattended in a vehicle in one of three ways:

  • 56% - child was “forgotten” by caregiver
  • 27% - child gained entry to an unattended vehicle and became trapped
  • 13% - child was intentionally left alone

Q: How many children die from heatstroke?
A: Since 1990, 891 children across the United States have died from being trapped in a hot car. An average of 38 children die every year, and for every child who dies, hundreds more are rescued. It does not have to be hot outside for the car to heat up to a dangerous level. Light pouring through the windows of the car stays within the car and raises its temperature.

Q: How can a driver be sure not to “forget” a child in a back seat?
A: The best way to remember a child is to leave something you will need at your next destination in the back seat. This could be a purse, briefcase, gym bag, cell phone or something else you always carry. You can set the alarm on your cell phone or computer calendar as a reminder to drop your child off at childcare.

Q: Are there other dangers to unattended children in cars?
A: Yes. Children can put a car in gear, wander away from the car or be kidnapped.

Q: What should parents and caregivers do to protect kids from heatstroke?
A: The best thing to do is NEVER LEAVE YOUR CHILD ALONE IN A CAR – not even for a minute. Take your child with you when you leave the vehicle. People have been known to run into a store and lose track of time. It takes very little time for a child to be at great risk of death or injury when alone in a car. Make sure you make it clear to your babysitter that it is never okay to leave your child alone in a car.

Q: Are there laws about this?
A: Yes, 19 states have laws, but each state law is different. Some states may consider this action to be felony child neglect if a child is injured or killed. It is never safe for a child to be alone in a car. This happens to people of all races, social classes and professions. It can happen to you.

Q: What should I do if I see a child alone in a car?
A: The best thing you can do is to call 911 (EMS) immediately. Wait by the vehicle so EMS can find you quickly. EMS personnel are trained to assess a situation and determine if the child is in danger. If you determine from outside the car that the child is severely impaired from outside the car, alert the 911 operator and follow directions. You may have to provide bystander care and remove the child from the car. 911 may direct you to slowly cool and lower the body temperature by using a cool water mist or wipes until help arrives.

Q: What is meant by the term “near miss?”
A: A near miss describes when a child who has been left alone in a hot car is rescued before the situation becomes fatal. This term does not include situations where a child gets locked inside of a car but has a caregiver outside, seeking immediate help. For every child who dies after being left alone in a hot car, hundreds more are near misses, even by the most conservative estimates.

Q: How do young children gain entry to a car?
A: Many kids gain entry into a car because the trunk or the doors are open. Parents should keep keys out of children’s reach. Once children get inside, they can be quickly overcome by heat and not know how to problem-solve and climb out. People with kids should check to be sure everyone is out of the car before they lock it and make sure the car is locked each and every time. People without kids should also lock their doors and trunks to keep neighborhood kids from climbing into their vehicles. If a child goes missing, always remember to check a pool FIRST, and then look in cars and trunks.

Q: What can I do to help?
A: First, you can make a personal commitment to never leave your child alone in the car. Second, urge your community to do the same. You can share information by posting flyers at your child’s nursery, school, and local grocery or anywhere you can think of. You can also help spread the word by sharing information on your Facebook, Twitter or any other social media profiles.

For more information on preventing child heatstroke deaths, please visit:
https://www.safekids.org/heatstroke or https://www.kidsandcars.org/how-kids-get-hurt/heat-stroke/

About Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) New Brunswick, an RWJBarnabas Health Facility, is a 600-bed academic medical center that serves as the principal teaching hospital of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the flagship Cancer Hospital of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. Its Centers of Excellence include cardiovascular care from minimally invasive heart surgery to transplantation, cancer care, stroke care, neuroscience, orthopedics, bariatric surgery and women’s and children’s care including The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (www.bmsch.org). A Level 1 Trauma Center and the first designated Pediatric Trauma Center in the state, RWJUH’s New Brunswick campus serves as a national resource in its ground-breaking approaches to emergency preparedness.

RWJUH has been ranked among the best hospitals in America by U.S. News & World Report seven times and has been selected by the publication as a high performing hospital in numerous specialties. The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital has been ranked among the best hospitals in America by U.S. News & World Report five times. In addition, RWJUH was named among the best places to work in health care by Modern Healthcare magazine and received the Equity Care of Award as Top Hospital for Healthcare Diversity and Inclusion from the American Hospital Association. RWJUH Brunswick has earned significant national recognition for clinical quality and patient safety, including the prestigious Magnet® Award for Nursing Excellence and “Most Wired” designation by Hospitals and Health Networks Magazine. The American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer has rated RWJUH New Brunswick among the nation’s best comprehensive cancer centers. For more Information visit us online at www.rwjbh.org/newbrunswick

Contact: Peter Haigney
RWJUH Public Relations
(732) 937-8568