2018 was the deadliest year on record for child vehicular heat-stroke deaths.
To bring awareness of the crisis, Christus Good-Shepherd Medical Center Marshall conducted a “Look Before You Leave” hot car demonstration on Friday to show just how dangerously high temperatures inside of a closed vehicle can climb when parked in the summer heat.
“(Within) just a few minutes — the first two to three minutes — the temperature rises the most,” said Dr. Jennifer Chandler, the hospital’s emergency medicine medical director.
Chandler said a child’s system isn’t equipped to handle such conditions.
“Children’s systems are not fully developed. Their neurological system is still developing. (They’re) more prone to heat-related illness, especially,” she said. “Even the younger children can’t even communicate that they may be having symptoms. They may not be feeling well; and adults take it for granted.”
At Friday’s demonstration, organizers used a thermometer and doll to show just how high temperatures can climb when children are left unattended in a parked car with the windows up and no air conditioning.
“We get the car parked with the AC on, windows up, just kind of how you will normally be,” Will Knous, hospital spokesman, said. “And we turn it off, make sure the windows stay up, like you would leave it in the car at school or the grocery store or anything like that and then we set the timer for 10 minutes; and once those 10 minutes are up, we open up the back door to see the demonstration.”
Within 10 minutes, the temperature soared from the initial 77 degrees to a fiery 109 degrees inside of the vehicle.
“It can become dangerous,” Knous said.
It’s so dangerous that, on average, 38 children younger than age 15 die each year from heatstroke after being left in a vehicle, Dr. Chandler said.
“That is one every nine days,” she said, quoting statistics from the National Safety Council.
Last year, a record of 52 children died after being left in a hot car. This year, there’s been 35 deaths so far.
With such alarming numbers across the nation, the Marshall hospital said they don’t want to see such tragedy happen here. Friday’s ‘Look before You Leave’ demonstration was geared towards not only educating the public about the dangers of leaving children in a hot car, but also how to prevent tragedy.
“It’s just an opportunity to explain the importance of this to the public,” said Knous. “We want to make sure people understand what the risks are, why they’re so important because this is not something that is an isolated incident or restricted to any one group or age or anything like that.”
Knous said it impacts anyone who is around children.
“If you don’t have kids, you’ve got brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, you’re babysitting for your friend,” he said. “There’s a chance for this to happen all the time.
“And it’s not always gross negligence or terrible parenting or anything like that, it can just be an oversight or people being busy,” said Knous, “but the numbers are the numbers and we would prefer to never have to do this type of demonstration ever again; but until this is no longer an issue, we’ll keep trying to raise awareness about it.”
Chandler said it’s especially serious considering the fact that it’s a national problem — with nearly every state experiencing one death since 1998.
“We think about the south and being hot down here, but this isn’t just restricted to the south,” Chandler said. “This is a nationwide problem.”
Chandler said the Marshall hospital has had its share of heatstroke-related patients, from children to adults getting overheated on the job or while recreating. Fortunately none have been deadly.
“We’ve been blessed so far, but we want to raise awareness before we become a statistic,” the doctor said.