Freeman educates about preventable health risks to children

Amanda Dickerson, pediatrician at Freeman Health System, talks about National Injury Prevention Day on Wednesday at the Freeman Children's Clinic. Globe | Roger Nomer

There was an important reason the lights from the nearby helipad splashed the Freeman Hospital West building Wednesday evening with a greenish glow.

Freeman was one of more than 40 trauma centers across 15 states that went “green” after dark in honor of National Injury Prevention Day, aiming to raise awareness of injuries among children nationwide. Such an event “is the easiest, no-pain way for us to keep kids safe,” said Amanda Dickerson, a pediatrician at Freeman’s Children’s Clinic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated headlines since early March, but doctors say that equally tragic is the fact that injuries remain the leading cause of death and disability among U.S. children aged 1-18. Many injuries are preventable if commonsense safety measures are used upfront by parents.

Twenty children per day across the nation die from a preventable injury, resulting in more pediatric deaths than from all other diseases combined, Dickerson said.

“Preventable injuries are exactly that — preventable," she said.

Vehicle safety

In the U.S., motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among children. In 2018, 636 children 12 and younger died in motor vehicle traffic crashes, and more than 97,000 were injured. Of the 636 motor vehicle-related deaths, 33% of the children weren’t buckled.

Securing a child in a safe and reliable car seat is one of the simplest things a parent can do for their child, Dickerson said.

“There is a lot of resistance among parents when it comes to car seats,” she said. “They are sort of looked upon as milestones — moving up in car seats shows how big they’re getting. But in reality, it’s not a milestone that needs to be rushed.”

Until they're between the ages of 2 and 4, children should be in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the maximum weight or height limit of their car seat. Experts say children should stay rear-facing as long as possible.

“My son was 3 1/2 years old before we turned him forward,” Dickerson said.

Children should stay in forward-facing seats until at least the age of 5, before moving on into booster seats. Booster seats are no longer needed when a proper seat belt fits a child snugly, usually when they are 4 feet, 9 inches tall or between the ages of 9 and 12.

“Using a (properly fitting) seat belt can be a lifesaver,” Dickerson said, “because the alternative is unthinkable.”

Gun safety

Hundreds of children die each year from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Across the nation, 4.6 million American children live in homes with guns that are both loaded and unlocked, according to besmartforkids.org.

If guns aren’t secured, Dickerson said, “that can be a big source of injuries and death.”

Each year in the U.S., nearly 260 children 17 and younger gain access to a firearm and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else. Nearly 600 more die by suicide with a gun each year.

“There are a lot of people in Joplin who own guns, who hunt; most kids are curious by nature, and most injuries happen inside the home,” Dickerson said.

With families at home more than ever now because of COVID-19, and with children being homeschooled or virtually taught, the boredom and isolation this can bring about poses additional risks to their safety.

“Securing all guns in the home — storing them locked, unloaded ... and separate from ammunition — can save a child’s life,” Dickerson said.

Children usually don’t retain gun safety messages, no matter how many times a parent brings it up with them, “so (parents) really have to go that extra step to make sure your firearms are locked, unloaded and kept away from ammunition," she said.

Water safety

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 1 to 4 globally. And drowning deaths can easily be preventable, Dickerson said.

“I never recommend any child around any body of water without parent supervision,” Dickerson said, regardless of whether the body of water is a public or private swimming pool, nearby Shoal Creek, Grand Lake in Delaware County — or even a household bathtub.

Drowning is fast and silent; it can happen in as little as 20 seconds.

“Drowning is not a very dramatic event,” Dickerson said. “It’s not like in the movies where the kids are splashing and yelling for help. It’s quiet. They just sink right into the water, go straight up and down, and then they’re gone.”

One easy way to prevent drowning deaths is to designate an adult to watch children in water at play.

“They can’t be on the phone or doing other things,” Dickerson said. “They’re not the grill master but the people watcher.”

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