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Safe Kids urges vigilance to prevent heatstroke

By Staff | Jun 30, 2015

In the past month, six children nationwide have died of heatstroke from being in a vehicle.

The United States loses an average of 37 children per year due to heatstroke, according to Sally Kreuscher, the Safe Kids Lee/Collier Counties coordinator for the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida. As of Tuesday, eight children total had suffered this tragedy so far this year.

“Currently, Florida leads the nation with two heatstroke deaths,” she said.

On June 2, an 18-month-old girl in Hiland Park died after being left in a vehicle after her mother believed she had been dropped off at daycare. Prior to that, a 16-month-old girl in Lake City died on May 12 after also being left behind because her father thought she had been dropped off at daycare.

Kreuscher reported that on average, a vehicle heats up 19 degrees in just 10 minutes during the summer months. After that, the vehicle heats up an additional 10 degrees every 10 minutes.

“Their bodies are smaller, so their core temperatures rise three to five times faster than adults,” she said. “When temperatures reach about 104 degrees, that’s when you’ll start seeing the dizziness.”

Other symptoms of heatstroke can include disorientation, loss of sweat and flushed skin.

“At 107 degrees, the internal organs begin to shut down,” Kreuscher said.

Spikes in heatstroke deaths across the nation are typically recorded between May and September.

“But here in Southwest Florida, near misses or the tragedies can occur any time,” she said.

Palm Beach County once calculated over 500 cases of near misses in one year.

Kreuscher noted that not all cases involve infants or smaller children.

“There have been deaths all the way up 14 years old,” she said.

An estimated 53 percent of heatstroke victims are forgotten in a vehicle by the caregiver.

“It’s more often than not the immediate parent,” Kreuscher said.

Based on statistics, fathers are the group most likely to forget, followed by mothers. Both father and mother together are the third group. For example, each parent thinks the other retrieved the child.

“Seventeen percent are actually the ones that are left intentionally in the vehicle,” she said.

In these cases, the caregiver may leave the child behind to run into a store.

“About 29 (percent) to 30 percent of it is children who are playing unattended and get trapped or trap themselves inside the vehicle,” Kreuscher said. “This tragedy is 100 percent preventable.”

Communities can take steps to help prevent heatstroke-related injuries and deaths.

“We advise families by remembering the acronym ACT,” she said.

A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving children alone in a vehicle – not even for a minute. Also make sure to keep the vehicle locked, so children do not get into it on their own.

C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of the vehicle next to the child, such as a briefcase, purse or cell phone, that is needed at your final destination.

T: Take action – if you see a child alone is a vehicle, call 911. Emergency personnel are trained to respond to these situations and want you to call.

“It’s really important if you’re not following your routine to use those reminders,” Kreuscher said.

If a child is found left in a vehicle, cool the youth down with a spray bottle or wash cloth.

“Then bring them to an emergency staff to get looked over,” she said.

Those who find a child unresponsive in a vehicle should immediately call 911.

“I believe this pulls at people’s heartstrings. When it happens, people want criminal charges and so forth because it seems so negligent,” Kreuscher said. “But, it happens frequently.”

For more information, visit online: www.safekidsleecollier.org.