In 1917, the SS Mont-Blanc, a cargo ship loaded with wartime explosives, collided with another ship in Halifax Harbor. The historic blast killed and injured thousands.
The disaster’s lack of coordinated medical care for children inspired Dr. William Ladd to pioneer the specialty of pediatric surgery in North America. Children’s hospitals soon began opening across the country.
As we approach the 100th anniversary of that event, I am reminded – as a pediatric surgeon and father of five – of how far we have come, and how far we have to go, in preventing injuries to children.
In the U.S., injury is the No. 1 killer of children over all diseases combined. It is also the most common cause of disability in childhood. Every year, 8,000 families lose a child to injury and millions more children are treated in emergency departments for injuries, many of which can affect them for a lifetime.
The good news is most of these injuries are preventable, usually with the right education, awareness and planning. However, too many families do not have access to the resources they need to keep their children safe from drowning, car crashes, poisonings, fires, abuse and falls.
But we can solve this – together!
At Valley Children’s Hospital, our pediatric trauma team partners with parents, schools and first responders to prevent childhood injuries. We are the lead agency for Safe Kids Central California, part of a global organization committed to preventing injuries in children.
This coalition implements programs such as car-seat checkups, safety workshops and sports clinics to help parents and caregivers protect children.
When a child suffers serious injury, Valley Children’s Level II Pediatric Trauma Center – Central California’s only pediatric trauma center – is ready. Our board-certified specialists cover the full range of pediatric medicine, and are skilled in the unique needs of infants, children and adolescents.
We are also specially trained and experienced in doing everything possible to correct or improve the child’s condition without surgery.
Fortunately, unintentional injury deaths of children ages 0 to 18 have declined nationally by 40 percent over the past five years, saving nearly 2,000 lives. We like to think our local injury-prevention efforts have contributed to this remarkable decrease. But we need to do more.
Protecting our children is everyone’s responsibility. Valley Children’s and others can provide the education, resources and tools to help prevent their injuries, and to treat them when necessary.
But parents are the first line of defense. They need to take the lead with their children. Modifying a child’s environment and engaging in safety practices, such as installing stair gates and keeping matches and lighters out of reach, can make a big difference.
As a father, I get it. It can be difficult to get a child to wear that bicycle helmet, or look both ways before crossing the street, or never jump into the pool without adult supervision. Three of my children have special needs, a situation that presents even more challenges.
I will let you in on a little-known, but important, fact:
The single most preventive action parents can take to keep kids safe from unintentional injury is the proper use of a car seat.
Yes, a car seat.
Despite decades of outreach around car-seat safety, car crashes remain the No. 1 cause of death for children under age 12. This is a heartbreaking statistic! Many crash deaths are preventable by putting kids in the right seat and using it the right way.
California law states children must ride in a secured car or booster seat until they are 8 years old or reach 4 feet, 9 inches in height. Beginning Jan. 1, children must ride rear-facing until they are age 2, weigh 40 pounds or are 40 inches tall.
Many parents remove their children from car and booster seats too early. Child safety seats reduce the risk of death in passenger cars by 71 percent for infants and by 54 percent for kids ages 1 to 4. For children ages 4 to 8, booster seats cut the risk of serious injury by 45 percent.
Nine out of 10 car seats are installed incorrectly. To help make sure your child’s car seat is secure, Valley Children’s offers free car-seat checks by appointment.
The SS Mont-Blanc showed us that sometimes something good is born out of tragedy and trauma. As we continue to make great strides in reducing injuries in children, we keep focused on the ultimate goal: ensuring each of our kids has the best opportunity for a healthy, happy life.
Michael Allshouse, D.O., is medical director for pediatric surgery and trauma at Valley Children’s Healthcare. For more information or to schedule a free car-seat check, contact Kristina Pasma, Valley Children’s trauma nurse liaison and coalition coordinator at Safe Kids Central California, at 559-353-5528 or firstname.lastname@example.org.