Even Mild Temperatures Can Kill Children Left in Cars

June 20, 2012

Dangerous temperatures are soaring as summer progresses. With the rise in temperatures comes an increase in the number of children dying from heatstroke when they are forgotten or left unattended in vehicles – or if they somehow climb inside a car without a parent’s knowledge.

With hopes of preventing such tragedies, Children’s Medical Center (www.childrens.com) will join Safe Kids Worldwide at 11 a.m. today for a media event focusing on ways to prevent children’s deaths and injuries in hot vehicles.

Among those speaking at the event will be two Texas families who lost children last year, including a Cleburne mother whose 4-year-old daughter died after climbing into a car outside the family’s home, and an Austin mother whose 1-year-old daughter died after being accidentally left in a vehicle.

An electronic display equipped with sensors connected to large digital readouts also will show how fast the temperature climbs inside a vehicle once the engine has been turned off.

Texas reported more child deaths in hot cars than any other state in the U.S. in 2011 with nine fatalities occurring statewide, according to statistics compiled by San Francisco State University’s Department of Geosciences, which maintains a Web site tracking such incidents.

Texas also led the nation in 2010 with 13 children dying from heatstroke in vehicles statewide, the site shows. Since 1998, Texas has led the nation by a wide margin with at least 81 hyperthermia deaths in vehicles during that time, San Francisco State University statistics show.

So far this year, five children already have died nationwide – including one in Texas – after suffering heatstroke in hot cars, trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles.

“With temperatures of 100-plus during the summer, it is important for parents to understand
how easy it is to forget a child in a vehicle, but more importantly, how to prevent this from happening,” said Jesus Alderete, an injury prevention service coordinator at Children’s.

As a Level 1 trauma facility that treats the most severe injuries, Children’s Medical Center is equipped and prepared to help any child locked in a vehicle for any amount of time. The hospital’s Injury Prevention Service is hosting today’s event, which includes officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A child can die from heatstroke inside a car on a 72-degree day, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. Children are more vulnerable to heatstroke because their bodies heat up to five times faster than those of adults, the safety organization says.

Heatstroke, which is commonly seen in young children left in locked cars, can cause a high body temperature greater than 105 degrees, headaches, weakness, seizures, paralysis and comas, said Dr. Halim Hennes, Children’s Medical Center’s division medical director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine. Hennes is also a professor of pediatrics and surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Even on a mild day, the temperature inside a car can rise 19 degrees in just 10 minutes. Leaving the car windows cracked open does not reduce the risk of heatstroke, experts say. Anyone who sees a child left unattended in a vehicle should call 911 immediately, because heatstroke can occur within minutes.

*Media should check in at the hospital’s main entrance at 1935 Medical District Drive in Dallas and a member of the media relations team will escort them to the event.*

About Children’s Medical Center

The not-for-profit Children's Medical Center is the fifth-largest pediatric healthcare provider in the country, with 559 licensed beds, two full-service campuses and 10 outpatient sites. Children’s was the state’s first pediatric hospital to achieve Level 1 Trauma Center status and is the only pediatric teaching facility in North Texas, affiliated with UT Southwestern Medical Center. For more information, please visit www.childrens.com.

About Safe Kids Worldwide

Safe Kids Worldwide is a global network of organizations dedicated to providing parents and caregivers with practical and proven resources to protect kids from unintentional injuries, the number one cause of death to children in the United States. Throughout the world, almost 1 million children die of an injury each year, and every one of these tragedies is preventable. Safe Kids works with an extensive network of more than 600 coalitions in the U.S. and in 22 countries to reduce traffic injuries, drownings, falls, burns, poisonings and more. Since 1988, Safe Kids has helped reduce the U.S. childhood death rate from unintentional injury by 53 percent. Working together, we can do much more for kids everywhere. Join our effort at www.safekids.org.