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Kids in cars could succumb to heat faster than adults

Summer means hot car interiors. For a child left in a vehicle, it can be a death sentence.

Janette E. Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Cars, cautions against forgetting children inside vehicles. In 2005, the group was instrumental in making it illegal to leave children unattended in vehicles.

“About 87 percent of the children who die in vehicles are 3 or under,” Fennell said. “When you look at just 1-year-olds or younger, that’s over 30-some percent, and age 2 is 22 percent. It shows this is focused on the very young. Anyone who has children will tell you, when (they’re that age), you don’t ever know if you’re going to get a good night’s sleep. … Fatigue is a huge part of what causes our brain not to work (optimally).”

Adding to the problem is the fact that babies will fall asleep to the gentle hum of the wheels. Fennell said her office receives hundreds of emails from parents who say they got to work and were about to leave the vehicle when they heard a sigh in the back seat or had some other indicator and realized they were about to forget their child.

A mother of two, Fennell said she can only imagine the guilt and suffering that at-fault parents experience.

“If you think it’s difficult to live through the death of a child, be it cancer, a traffic accident or any other situation, try being the person who’s responsible,” she said. “The grief these parents feel is so far off the Richter scale.”

On April 20, Alpha Koryor, 2, died in Phoenix, the first victim of the year. He was left inside his father’s vehicle after his father had consumed alcohol. Approximately 6 percent of child heat stroke deaths reportedly involve adults’ drug or alcohol use.

In 10 minutes, the temperature inside a vehicle can rise 19 degrees, according to ggweather.com. In 30 minutes, the temperature can rise 34 degrees, in 60 minutes, it can increase by 43 degrees. Cracking the window open has little effect on the inside temperature because the air inside the vehicle is warmed by the steering wheel, the dashboard, the seats and other parts of the interior.

A child’s body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult’s, the National Safety Council stated.

Dr. Johnn Trautwein, director of the pediatric emergency room at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center, said he sees a handful of heat stroke cases involving children each summer due to the youths playing outdoors and not staying hydrated.

Trautwein said children will start to sweat, but sweating cools the body only if there’s an air current.

“So the child will sweat profusely until they have no more fluid,” Trautwein said. “When the sweating goes away, that’s when we start to see a drop in blood pressure — their heart starts to give out, they start to have brain events, seizures or go into a coma. It can happen fairly quickly.”

Depending on the conditions and the child, his core temperature can rise within 15 minutes.

“We saw one child and the (car’s temperature) was up to, I want to say, 160 degrees. He’d been left in there and was severely dehydrated and he ended up pulling through. … What you and I (can handle) is going to more severely affect a pediatric patient,” Trautwein said.

Death occurs when the body’s internal temperature reaches 108 degrees.

“But when we get concerned is 105.8 — that’s what’s considered hyperpyrexia,” Trautwein said. “That’s when we’re seeing the potential for brain damage.”

Internal organs shut down first, as they are not vital to lowering the body temperature. Blood floods the arms and legs as those areas have the potential to dissipate heat. As the ability to sweat peters out, the skin flushes; vomiting and diarrhea may occur.

“We’ll see kids and their skin will be beet red when they’re in heat stroke,” Trautwein said. “The last thing to shut down is your brain and your heart.”

When a child arrives at the hospital with heat stroke, the ER will try to get the body temperature down as quickly as possible.

“The risk is that we drop your blood pressure so low that your heart can’t pump fast enough to keep oxygen going around your body,” Trautwein said.

Like adults have more fluids than children, older youngsters have more fluids than toddlers.

“The smaller they are, the more at risk they are,” Trautwein said. “Your young infants are going to be the ones who are at extremely high risk.”

Fennell said many people say leaving a child in their car seat in the heat happens only to other people.

“They’re really only kidding themselves,” Fennel said. “People are only human; we forget things. Don’t think this can’t happen to you.”

To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email jhogan@viewnews.com or call 702-387-2949.

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