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Scott Kappes
Scott Kappes
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Toddler Deaths in Hot Cars: A Tragic Epidemic

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Each year about 37 babies die after accidentally being left strapped in their safety seats. While it may seem unfathomable to some it most certainly is a reality, and so much so that memory experts are calling it an epidemic.

A great article from Parenting.com tells the tragic story of Mary Parks and her son Juan. Mary had everything that she ever wanted, a loving husband, a good job, and most importantly two beautiful children, 23 month-old Juan and four-year-old Byron.

Mary had been extremely overwhelmed in the recent weeks with both boys sick, work, visits from relatives, and all of the other stresses that go along with balancing a full time job with raising two small children, but September 7, 2007 Mary’s life would change forever.

That morning Mary decided to leave Byron who had become ill the night before at home with her husband to recuperate and drop little Juan off at daycare on her way to work. She got Juan into his car seat and he quickly fell asleep. She says that’s he remembers notuicing that he had fallen asleep and that she never thought about it again.

Mary had rarely taken just one boy to day care and usually stayed home from work when one of the boys was sick, but today her husband had volunteered to stay home with Byron.

With Juan asleep Mary began to think about the busy day she had ahead. As we have all done Mary forgot where she was going and began on her normal routine of heading to work. I can’t tell you how many times I have driven out of the my way just from habit.

When Mary got to work she quickly grabbed her purse from the front seat and made her way to the building. Juan was already out of diapers and with him sound asleep in the back seat nothing triggered Mary’s memory that Juan was still in the car.

Mary had a normal day at work and returned to her car at the day’s end. She then went to the supermarket and shopped for dinner and then headed toward daycare to pick up the Juan.

When she got there, the teacher asked her if Juan had been out sick, to which Mary replied, “ No, I brought him this morning.”

Just then it clicked in Mary’s head and she ran to the car where her beloved child lay lifeless.

She immediately called 911 from the daycare facility but it was far too late.

This is just one tragic story. There are dozens of similar stories each and every year.

Memory lapses like this happen about once a week from spring to early fall and have cost 450 children their lives since 1998.

These types of lapses happen all the time on a less threatening level. People get distracted and the brain fills in the gaps so you remember what you assume you did.

Most people assume something like this could never happen to them and some have even expressed hatred for the parents and caregivers that are already living with a lifetime of regret. Believe it or not anyone could have a memory lapse like this if the conditions are right.

Here is a list of tips that can help you avoid a tragedy like this.

  • First and foremost, always put your cell phone, purse, or briefcase, and anything else you’ll need that day, on the floor of the backseat. When you retrieve it at the end of the ride, you’ll notice your child.
  • Seat your younger (or quieter) child behind the front passenger seat, where he’s most likely to catch your eye. many of the children that have died were behind the driver’s side.
  • Keep a teddy bear or other stuffed animal in the car seat when it’s empty. When you put your child in the seat, move the animal to the front passenger seat, to remind you that your baby’s on board.
  • Ask your child’s baby sitter or day care provider to always phone you promptly if your child isn’t dropped off as scheduled.
  • Make a habit of always opening the back door of your car after you park, to check that there’s no kid back there.
  • Never assume someone else — a spouse, an older child — has taken a young kid out of her seat. Such miscommunication has led to more than a few hot-car deaths.
  • Invest in a device to help you remember small passengers. The Cars-N-Kids monitor plays a lullabye when the car stops and a child is in the seat ($29.95). The ChildMinder System sounds an alarm if you walk away and leave your child in the seat ($69.95).