"72 degrees and sunny is no way to die. Never leave your child alone in a car." This was the warning being distributed by Safe Kids USA along with the news that the 500th child has died from heat stroke - a record that is not to be celebrated. According to Safe Kids, an average of 38 heat-related deaths occurs every year. Sometimes parents and caretakers find it convenient to leave small children unattended in vehicles while they run into the store. Other times, leaving a sleeping child behind is purely an accident, and the fault of a distracted, but otherwise caring parent. But it is an oversight that can prove to be fatal during the hot summer months when a car with its windows rolled up becomes a steaming deathtrap and children's tiny bodies overload with heat.
Atlanta area personal injury attorneys recently learned of a tragic death close to home which resulted when a slumbering two year old was inadvertently left behind while daycare workers took other students on a field trip. The prolonged exposure to excessive heat overwhelmed her body and her body temperature climbed uncontrollably. It was two hours before anyone notice she was missing, but by then it was too late. Hers was the second such death in the metro Atlanta area in less than a month. On May 25, a five-month-old baby died after being left in a car outside of a Kennesaw daycare center.
Heatstroke occurs when a person's temperature exceeds 104 degrees F and their thermoregulatory mechanism is overwhelmed, says Safekids' Web site. A child's core body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult's, making them more susceptible to heat stroke - even on a day with mild temperatures.
Here are some ways to guard yourself and your children against the dangers of a heat stroke:
• Thoroughly check all backseats of vehicles for sleeping children before exiting your vehicle and locking doors;
• Never leave small children alone in cars for extended periods of time. If anything, try not to leave them unattended at all;
• According to Safekids, there is no evidence that cracking the windows helps prevent the temperature in vehicle interiors from reaching dangerous levels. In fact, sunlight coming through car windows makes the car work like an oven. So never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even with the window slightly open;
• If you see a child unattended in a vehicle, immediately call 9-1-1.
Administrator David Strickland, U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration summed it up best. "There is no greater tragedy for a parent or caregiver than to suffer the loss of a child due to hyperthermia," he said. "It's vital that children never be left unattended in a vehicle and keys are kept out of a child's reach. We urge all parents and caregivers to make a habit of looking in the vehicle - front and back - before locking the door and walking away. If a child is missing, check the vehicle, including the trunk."