The party stopped and the conversation started when an insurance company ran an ad during the Super Bowl that was voiced by a child who had lost his life. We don’t know how he died, exactly. Was it a drowning? Was it by swallowing cleaning fluid or medicine? Was it from a furniture tip-over? All we know is that it was an injury.
Unintentional injury is the leading cause of childhood death and disability after the first year of life. It has been for decades, and yet few seem to take notice.
Maybe that was the point of the commercial. To get us to notice. To make us uncomfortable enough to act. To motivate us all — parents, grandparents, anyone who can make changes in their homes — to lock cabinets and never, ever leave a baby in a tub alone or do a multitude of other things that can cause a child significant harm.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on average 9,000 children in the United States lose their lives each year to unintentional injuries. That’s more child deaths than those lost to cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, asthma and prematurity combined.
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The ad should shake us up about what we don’t pay attention to, reminding us yet again to turn pot handles inward, and get curtain cords away from young necks. Maybe it was shown in the hope that we won’t be complacent about putting a fence around the pool, remembering to lock the gate or moving the chairs that a child can climb on away from the pool fence. Maybe it is meant to help us remember to alarm doors if we live by a canal, so little ones cannot wander out without our knowing. Maybe the company wanted us to keep both little kids and teens safe from lethal weapon risk, reminding us that if there are guns in the home we must make certain they are securely locked, with any ammunition locked separately and keys kept away.
Of all the unintentional injuries, motor vehicle crash injuries remain the most common, and among the most severe, causing about 3,500 deaths a year in the United States. February is Child Passenger Safety Month, a great time to be reminded how to protect our families and everyone around us.
Drivers must insist that everyone in the car wear a seat belt. If there are too many passengers, it is time to call a friend, taxi or Uber to help out.
We must be sure that infants and toddlers use car seats. Car seats have dramatically reduced injury among children under the age of 4. Call the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Miami at 305-243-9080 or your local fire department or 211 to check if the car seat is correctly installed and being used safely for your growing child. And remember, new guidelines recommend that babies remain in rear-facing car seats until age 2.
Children over 4 years and under 4 feet 9 inches in height (generally somewhere between the age of 8 and 12) should be in booster seats. Booster seats place the lap portion of the seat belt over the hips and the shoulder belt over the sternum and collar bone. In a car crash, the belt relays the impact of the force through the bones rather than the soft portions of the body that bleed more. In addition, a booster seat gives a child a lift, so they can see more out the window.
All children should remain in the back seat until they turn 13. This is to protect them from the front seat air bag, which can be deadly for kids.
Anyone who drives — teen or adult — should give the cell phone a rest. Texting, dialing, surfing the web, emailing and the like are all distracted driving, which is harmful to drivers, passengers, pedestrians — all of us. Keep us all safe. Drive without the phone.
Keeping kids safe demands all of our attention and focus, because it is among our greatest responsibilities. Childhood injury may be so common because we often ignore it. Or perhaps we don’t pay enough attention because accidents seem so common. They don’t have to be. They are preventable. With a little effort we can save lives, and children will grow up to see their happily ever after.
Dr. Judy Schaechter is interim chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Miller School of Medicine. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.