Due to the current heat wave in the region, Children’s Hospital at Erlanger and Safe Kids Greater Chattanooga Area officials want to remind adults about the dangers of hyperthermia.
As of Tuesday, seven children have died in the United States due to hyperthermia (heat stroke) after they were left in a hot vehicle, and thousands more, including adults, have suffered from heat exhaustion because they were not hydrated or were exposed to the outside elements too long.
Four years ago, one local family experienced a horrifying situation when they found their three-year-old son had fallen asleep after becoming overheated for a half an hour in their jeep. He was rushed to Children’s Hospital with a body temperature of 107 degrees.
“We didn’t know if he would make it through the night,” said Owen’s mother, Margaret Mynatt.
Regrettably, Owen’s parents were preoccupied with home repairs after purchasing their home a month earlier and did not know Owen found his way into their vehicle.
“He was upset because he couldn’t play with his older brother’s battery-operated mini jeep,” said Mrs. Mynatt. “So, he decided to climb into our adult jeep to play.”
“Hyperthermia, or heat stroke, is a condition when the body is unable to cool itself and the body temperature rises to dangerous levels,” said Children’s Hospital pediatric critical care specialist, Dr. Erin Reade. “Children are at a higher risk for heat stroke. Their body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s because their internal systems are not fully developed, and they tend to absorb or generate heat under stress quickly.”
Heat stroke symptoms in adults and children can quickly progress from dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, hallucinations, sluggishness, hot to dry skin that is usually flushed but not sweaty, vomiting, seizures, loss of consciousness, rapid heartbeat, organ failure and death.
A week after finding their lifeless son in their hot vehicle, Owen was walking and riding a scooter up and down the family’s driveway.
“We were so impressed with how the staff at Children’s Hospital handled the situation and allocated their services to take care of our child,” said Mrs. Mynatt. “As a former Pediatric Intensive Care Unit nurse, you would never think this would happen to you. As parents, we feel guilty and think we should have watched him closer. We just want people to know it can happen to anyone.”
Like Owen, approximately 30% of children who die in hot vehicles are those who play in an unattended vehicle. Children enter vehicles to find a private place to hide or play. Not only is this dangerous if the temperature outside is too hot, but parents may think their child is missing or the child can accidently make the car move from its parked location. Over half of the children who are left in cars are forgotten by the caregiver. This can happen when there is a change in the family’s routine or the driver is not use to transporting the child. Approximately 17% of children who die in hot vehicles are, unfortunately, those who are unsupervised and left intentionally in vehicles.
What can you do to ensure your vehicle and child are safe?
- Keep all doors locked when no other adult is inside the vehicle or when it is not in use. Even if you do not have children, it is important to keep your vehicle doors locked so neighborhood children or young family members do not climb into your vehicle.
- Place your purse or backpack (something you will carry with you when you reach your destination or exit the vehicle) in the back seat of the vehicle. Or, place a toy in the front seat if the item you are carrying is in the front seat so you will remember your child.
- You can set the alarm on your cell phone or program your computer calendar to ask “Did you drop me off at daycare today?” as a reminder.
- If you have an iPhone, the Baby Reminder might be a solution for you. Baby Reminder helps you by creating a reminder for you when you drive your child to a destination. You simply set the days and time intervals in which you usually drop off your children. It will monitor and determine when you are driving or when you are not. An alert reminding you about your child will be sent shortly after you arrive at your destination. The App is free and can be downloaded at the IPhone App Store.
- Parents can urge their daycare’s manager to participate in Ray Ray’s Pledge. Parents sign a pledge to always call their child’s teacher/caregiver if the child will be late or absent from daycare. The daycare then pledges to always call parents if their child does not arrive at daycare on time and a planned absence has not already been communicated. You can find more information on Ray Ray’s Pledge by going to www.rayrayspledge.com.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, those who need to be especially careful in the heat are the elderly, people with a chronic medical condition (or taking prescriptions sensitive to heat and sun), children, homeless or poor, outdoor workers and athletes. These populations are most at-risk to heat sickness.
All individuals should:
• Limit outdoor activity, especially midday when it is the hottest part of the day.
• Drink two to four cups of water every hour while working. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink.
• Avoid alcohol or liquids containing large amounts of sugar.
• Wear and reapply sunscreen as indicated on the package.
If you or a love one experiences symptoms of heat-related illness, you need to call 911 for medical attention. If you ever see an unattended child in a vehicle, dial 911 immediately and follow instructions provided by the operator.
When Owen was three years old, the family found him in a hot vehicle where he almost died from a heat stroke. Margaret credits the staff at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger for saving her son’s life four years ago. Standing with her is pediatric critical care specialist, Dr. Erin Reade.