Since starting this blog 2 years ago, I’ve been surprised by the number of stories I have read about children, mostly infants, being left in hot cars alone. In some cases, a passerby will see the child and call authorities, but in many the child goes unnoticed and dies.
The 1-year-old’s temperature was nearly 106 degrees when the ambulance arrived at her babysitters home, but it was too late.
Aslyn Ryan had been found limp and unresponsive after being left in the car for 50 minutes while her caretaker ran errands, her mom remembers. She spent two days in intensive care and suffered multiple strokes and other hyperthermia-related injuries before she died in 2004 at Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women & Children in Honolulu.
“I never, as a nurse, could have dreamed what the horror of walking into the ER would be to see a code being performed on my own child,” Ryan wrote in testimony to the state Legislature in support of a law that makes leaving a child unattended in a car a violation of the state’s traffic code and sets fines for violators.
There are many organizations that have launched awareness campaigns.
- Non-profit Safe Kids USA teamed up with General Motors and Jan Null, a meteorologist and hyperthermia expert from San Francisco State University, on a media tour last summer to push hyperthermia education in Oklahoma and Texas. “It was good advocacy in getting the word out,” Null says.
- Boy Scouts of America created, with the help of Safe Kids USA, the Automotive Safety Patch program, which allows Cub Scouts and their families to visit five interactive stations that teach topics such as trunk entrapment and the possibility of kids being left in cars. “It should be taught in school so everyone could learn and be informed,” says Boy Scout Zachary Lines, 11, of Troy, Mich.
- Jennie Trowbridge of Flora, Miss., launched her Don’t Forget Your Child campaign last September, selling stickers, safety belt covers and picture frames with its logo. She decided to start the campaign — and create dontforgetyourchild.org— last August after the death of a 9-month-old girl in Ocean Spring, Miss. She died when left in her father’s parked car at the bank where he worked all day. “I could not bear the thought that that child sat and cried for her dad or someone, and no one came,” she says.
Every year hyperthermia takes the lives of about 35 children. So far this year, 23 infants and children have died in hot cars, Null’s research shows. Since 1998, 364 have died.
“I’m an advocate for zero time,” Jan Null says. “You don’t leave a child in the car for a 10-minute run into the bank because it ends up being 30 minutes because the person in front of you has 14 foreign checks to cash.”