Candace Adair lived through a nightmare: Her 22-month-old son, Shane, was accidentally backed over by a pickup truck in a neighbor's driveway. It happened in the time it took Adair to run inside the house and double-check that the stove was turned off.
"I heard my sister screaming, and I'll never forget the terror in her voice," says Adair, who was preparing to take her five children to a park near her Phoenix home, along with her sister Tabitha and her own six children. "But nothing could have prepared me for the horror of seeing my son lying in a puddle of blood, his skull smashed. My neighbor was just standing beside his truck in shock. He hadn't even seen Shane run behind it."
When Shane arrived at Phoenix Children's Hospital, Adair and her husband, Charles, were told that Shane wasn't expected to live through the night. "The E.R. physician said he wouldn't even try to repair the damage because he didn't want to disfigure our son's body for the funeral," Adair says. She promptly got a second opinion.
"When I first saw Shane, I felt his chance of surviving was less than 30 percent because of the severity of his injury," says the second doctor, P. David Adelson, M.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon and director of the hospital's Children's Neurosciences Institute. He used a whole-body cooling technique to help reduce the swelling in Shane's brain.
Shane was in a coma over the next two weeks, his family constantly by his side. One day he opened his eyes and smiled. Within a few weeks he was talking and playing games with his siblings. Two months after the accident -- on his second birthday -- Shane was sent home. He still needs weekly therapy, and he struggles with light sensitivity, headaches, and some paralysis on the left side of his face. But his parents are grateful that their little boy is alive.
However, many kids are not as lucky. Two hundred and sixty-two children under age 14 were killed in noncrash incidents in driveways or parking lots in 2007, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Approximately 115,000 more kids suffered injuries. "Protecting children from these accidents is an important new frontier in auto safety," says Parents adviser Dennis R. Durbin, M.D., co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "Because car-seat and booster-seat use has gone up, we've seen great progress in reducing the number of children killed or injured in on-road crashes.
Hopefully, we'll see the same progress as we focus more attention on accidents that happen off the road."
The Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act was passed in February 2008. Named for a 2-year-old boy who died after his father accidentally backed over him with his SUV, it requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to create regulations for new vehicles that will reduce the most common threats to children. These are blind zones that might cause a driver to back over or roll forward onto a child, power windows that can close on a child, and gearshifts that a child can accidentally activate. Unfortunately, this new law is still working its way through the department that decides on specific rules the auto industry must follow, and it will likely take several more years for the safety features to be standard in new cars. Thankfully, in the meantime, there are steps that every parent can take to make their cars -- and children -- safer.