On average, 38 children per year die from heatstroke. In fact, heat stroke is the leading cause of all non-crash related fatalities in children under age 14.
Due to a larger surface area, children respond to heat differently than adults. A child’s body temperature can rise at a rate five times faster than an adult’s. When the outside temperature is only 80 degrees, the temperature inside a car can rise to over 125 degrees within 60 minutes. If the temperature outside is 93 degrees, the car can reach a temperature of 125 degrees in 20 minutes.
These temperatures quickly raise a child’s body temperature. Heat stroke occurs when a child’s body temperature rises above 105 degrees. The child is no longer able to regulate her own temperature, and brain damage, organ damage or death can occur quickly.
Sadly, 52 percent of deaths are the result of a child being forgotten in the car by a caregiver. It happens most frequently when there are changes in routines and schedules. It can happen to anyone. Simple steps can be taken to prevent tragedy.
- Always check the backseat before locking the car
- Leave something you need like a purse, briefcase or cell phone on the floor of the backseat
- Arrange with your child’s daycare to contact you if your child does not arrive on time
- Keep a stuffed animal or other visual reminder in your child’s seat when it is not occupied. Move the object to the front passenger seat after placing your child in the car. Whenever you see the object, you will remember a child is in the backseat
- Never leave your child alone in the car; not even for a minute
- Teach your children never to play in parked cars
- Keep your parked car locked
If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call 911 immediately. If the child appears to be in distress, get him out of the car as quickly as possible and cool him rapidly, ideally with cool water.
For more information, visit St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s web page on Sophie’s KISS (Keeping Infants Safe and Secure) The program is in memory of a local child, Sophie, who died from heat stroke after being unintentionally left in her parents’ car.
“When we first became parents, we read all the “how-to” books,” her parents remember. “We bought outlet covers and baby gates. We locked up our medicines and installed cabinet locks to keep our little ones safe. Accidentally leaving one of our children in the car is not something we ever imagined we could do. Our kids are the lights of our lives, and such a failure didn't seem possible.”
Read about the program and suggested tips to prevent similar tragedies.
Lisa Ryan, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician at Way to Grow in O’Fallon, Mo. She earned her medical degree from University of Nebraska College of Medicine and completed her residency at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Dr. Ryan is on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, Progress West Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She is also a member of BJC Medical Group. Call 855-474-5400 or visit bjcmedicalgroup.org for more information.