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Melissa Arca

Dr. Mom: Please, don't forget your child in back seat

Published: Thursday, Jul. 12, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1D
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:10 pm

Parents think it would never happen to them.

"I would never forget or leave my child in the car," they say.

Unfortunately, the reality is that parents do forget.

It's rare, but it is deadly and can happen to the most well-intentioned and conscientious parent.

I remember last summer hearing of infants and toddlers being forgotten in the back seat as their parent went about their work day. And with deadly results.

I remember wondering, "How exactly does that happen?"

And then … one morning I found myself on the road to work, about to hit the freeway when I realized I still had my daughter in the back seat. I had not dropped her off at preschool yet. She was quiet, looking out the window.

I was on auto pilot, no doubt going through the laundry list of things to do that day. She was 3 at the time, and would have likely piped up and asked why she wasn't going to school.

But what about babies or toddlers, still rear-facing in their car seats, who happen to drift off to sleep during the drive? They're quiet and preverbal. A parent who is distracted, busy or doing something out of the ordinary that day (such as taking the child to day care) may be at great risk of doing just that.

During the hot summer months, these mistakes or innocent accidents are more prevalent. According to the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University, so far this year, 10 children have died in the United States as a result of hyperthermia from being left in a hot car. Half of these children are simply "forgotten" by a caregiver. Others get into a car to play, and still others are left there intentionally by parents or caregivers.

The reality is that children should not be left alone in cars. Studies have demonstrated that the inside temperature of a car can rise 19 degrees in just 10 minutes, and by 30 minutes, the temperature can rise by 29 degrees. Opening the window a bit had no effect.

If you think about the temperatures we deal with during the summer (over 100 degrees in some areas) and know that a core body temperature of 107 degrees can be lethal, then we know that children are in danger at relatively mild ambient temperatures.

That's why I love the slogan by the National Weather Service: Beat the Heat, Check the Back Seat.

So, please, parents and caregivers, do whatever it takes. Put your purse, cellphone or briefcase in the back seat. Have a system with your partner about calling after your child is dropped off at day care.

Place a stuffed animal in your child's car seat when he's not in it, then put the toy in the front seat when he is to remind you that your baby is with you.

If you have a child, always check the back seat before leaving your vehicle. Always.

I'll never forget stories like the father who forgot it was his turn to drop the baby off at day care. He went to work and his baby died in the back seat of his car.

I know you think this could never happen to you, but accidents and mistakes happen. Safeguard your loved ones. Do not allow young children to wait for you in the car while you run into the store/school/post office for just "one minute." You cannot predict what might happen. One minute can turn into 10, and before you know it, your children are at grave risk for suffering from heat stroke.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Dr. Melissa Arca



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