GREENSBORO — Of course children should be outdoors and accidents happen under the best of circumstances, but many are preventable.
Accidents may not happen every time a child climbs on an ATV or rides a bike without a helmet, but they do happen, said Leigha Jordan of Safe Kids Guilford, a local injury prevention coalition.
“We hear that a lot — ‘It never happened to me’ or ‘You never heard about that happening when I was a kid,'” Jordan told the News & Record in 2015. “But the reason we want to get these messages out is because we do see those cases come through our emergency departments.”
Over the years we’ve asked emergency room doctors and safety experts for their stories about summer dangers.
Doctors blame most of the injuries on carelessness.
Here are safety stories experts shared with the News & Record over the years to consider this Fourth of July:
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Generally, novelty firecrackers that don’t explode, leave the ground or fly through the air are legal in North Carolina. That would include sparklers, which produce colored flames. But that doesn’t mean children should handle them or be close by when adults handle them.
People tend to think they are safe since they are allowed.
“I was a resident in Philadelphia in the emergency department, and a 5-year-old child was brought in because he had picked up an M-80 (firecracker), and it exploded in his hand,” pediatrician Dr. Rob Poth told the News & Record in 2015. “He had pretty much blown up his hand.”
Poth said he knows it’s not just the children who come across a stash of firecrackers without their parents’ knowledge that are handling firecrackers because photos circulating on social media and in newspapers often show smiling youngsters holding sparklers with adults nearby.
He said what we’re also doing is sending children a mixed message.
“Any other time we would tell them to stay away from fire, it’s dangerous,” he said. “Handing them a lit sparkler or wand, or whatever you want to call it, isn’t much of a difference.”
Parents too often let their guard down, said Ernest Grant, a former outreach clinician with the Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. He said he knows that’s the case because of the ages of the patients who are injured by firecrackers.
Sparklers, which produce colored flames, burn up to 1,000 degrees or more — “As hot as a blow torch,” Grant said.
“A few years ago we had someone who was a flower girl in a wedding at the beach and instead of walking with flowers they walked with sparklers,” Grant said in 2018, “and the sparkler caught her dress on fire.”
A child can drown in a couple of inches of water in the bathtub, a wading pool or even a bucket of water in two minutes or less.
Rule of thumb while swimming: If the child cannot swim, he or she always should be within arm’s reach. If they can swim, they should be supervised.
Pediatrician Dr. Ross Kuhner shared in 2015 the story of one drowning victim with the News & Record.
“The child got away from parental supervision and had wandered down to the lake and had either fallen in or gotten into the water and drowned,” said Kuhner, who is now medical director of the children’s emergency department at Cone Health. “It (the water) wasn’t very deep, but it doesn’t require very much.”
It’s also important to know what a drowning might look like, experts said.
“People who are drowning do not always look like you would expect,” said Dr. James O’Neill, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Brenner Children’s Hospital.
They may not have the energy to splash around enough to grab anyone’s attention or be able to call out for help because they may not have enough oxygen in their lungs, he told the News & Record in 2015.
Another summer danger comes from such popular pastimes as riding a bike, scooter, ATV or skateboard without a helmet and padding. Children also should never be allowed to operate ATVs, experts warn.
Sometimes parents simply aren’t aware that their child might be riding an ATV. Luly Beckles, pediatric injury prevention coordinator with Brenner and Safe Kids Northwest Piedmont, last year shared the story of a child getting on an ATV at the house of one of their friends. The vehicle wrecked and the child died.
“No one wanted this to happen, but having that conversation lets that parent know that you do not want your child on an ATV,” Beckles said.
About 650 people are killed in ATV accidents every year in the United States, and one-third are under the age of 16. North Carolina had 39 reported deaths from 2017 to 2018, according to the state Fire Marshal’s Office.
North Carolina allows children 8 years old and older to drive age-appropriate ATVs with supervision.
Dr. Michael Mitchell, a pediatrician at Brenner Children’s Hospital’s emergency department, which is a part of Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, recalls a child under 6 driving an ATV with an even younger passenger. Both ended up in the ER.
Handling an ATV requires a lot of complex decision-making — when to stop, when to slow down, when to speed up, Mitchell said of maneuvering the motorized vehicle and reacting to conditions.
“Children have less awareness of consequences, they are easily distracted and these things are really powerful,” Mitchell said in 2018.
Medical personnel see broken bones and worse from drivers hitting a tree or falling into a ditch, including burns from coming into contact with the carburetor.
With bikes, scooters and skateboards, a lot of the accidents will happen as close as the driveway, Kuhner said.
“A 10-year-old was riding his bike (without a helmet) and sustained a skull fracture and bleeding around the brain,” Kuhner said. “A helmet would have prevented that from happening.”
Seatbelts could prevent a countless number of young automobile accident victims from getting rushed to hospital emergency rooms each year, said Dr. Philip Neustadt, a former emergency room physician at Wesley Long Hospital.
“Seatbelts save lives, seatbelts prevent injury, seatbelts are very important — and we can never say it enough,” Neustadt said back in 2001.
Pediatric patients also have lost limbs from falling off lawn mowers. Surgeons don’t want to see children on lawn mowers, even if they are riding in Grandpa’s lap.
“It’s really, really critical that people understand that these types of injuries are preventable,” pediatrician Robert Letton said in 2001.
Kids left in cars
For those parents tempted to make a stop and leave their children in the car with the windows cracked: Don’t.
A car’s windows act like a greenhouse, trapping sunlight and heat, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
And for those adults who transport children, have a plan for making sure all children are accounted for at the destinations or before locking up. If a child is riding in the back seat of a car, use a reminder system — possibly one of that child’s toys sitting on a purse or cellphone in the front seat.
“I can see them,” Kuhner said of his experiences with those children accidentally left in vehicles. “The only thing that you can say is that you can’t leave a child in a car for any length of time.”
Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.