Preventing heat stroke deaths in children

Monday, July 8, 2013 - 8:02pm

The family of 3 year old Sariah Delafosse is certain that her death was an accident.

Delafosse was found by her mother Krystal on Friday, after being left in a car for anywhere from 16-19 hours. Monday, the Caddo Coroner determined heat stroke to be the cause of death for the toddler. The coroner's full investigation won't be completed for at least 3 weeks, but with his decision, Delafosse joins the19 other children who have died after being left alone in cars.

Accidents like these happen too frequently, and Louisiana's Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) know that even the best parents make mistakes. With summer temperatures consistently in the mid 90s across DCFS reminds parents and caregivers to take extra precautions with summer safety, particularly regarding the risks of heat stroke.

Since 1989, DCFS has investigated 22 deaths of children suffering from hyperthermia, or heat stroke. The deaths were the result of a child being left in a car or climbing into a vehicle and becoming trapped.

"A child should never be left in a vehicle alone," said DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier. "Summer increases danger as temperatures rise and established routines including work and school schedules change. Simple precautions can prevent a deadly accident."

Scorching temperatures during the summer months can cause a car's interior temperature to rise at a rapid rate, putting children at the risk of heat stroke, brain damage and death. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that a child's body temperature can rise five times faster than that of an adult and a car's interior temperature can increase 10 degrees in just 10 minutes, even with the windows cracked two inches.

Safety tips to prevent hyperthermia include:

Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are partially open and you plan to return quickly.
Make a habit of looking in the vehicle - front and back - before locking the door and walking away.

If someone other than yourself is dropping your child off for the day, call the childcare provider to make sure the drop went according to plan. Or, if you have a smartphone, use an application like Find My Friends, which will alert you when they arrive at specified locations, such as the childcare center. If you do not receive an alert, immediately call the person who was dropping the child off that day.

Ask your childcare provider to call you if your child does not show up by a certain time each day.

Inside the vehicle, remind yourself that a child is in the backseat by writing a note and placing it where you will see it when you leave the vehicle; placing a bag, briefcase or something else you will need when you reach your final destination in the back seat; or keeping an object in the car seat, such as a stuffed toy. When the child is buckled in, place the object where you will notice it when leaving the vehicle, like the front seat.

Children occasionally climb into vehicles on their own and become trapped. To prevent this, do not let your children play in an unattended vehicle and teach them that a vehicle is not a play area. Additionally, always lock vehicle doors and trunks and keep keys out of children's reach. If a child is missing, check vehicles first, including trunks.

If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call the police. If they are in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible. Cool the child rapidly. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Warning signs of hyperthermia include red, hot and moist or dry skin, no sweating, a strong rapid pulse, a slow weak pulse, nausea or acting strangely.


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