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I have been an avid reader of Parents Magazine since before I had my son, and there is one story I read that I have never been able to forget.
It was a horrific story about a Virginia couple that had a picture perfect life: A comfortable house, well-paying jobs and two little boys they adopted as babies from Guatemala.
The year 2007 was rough for the family; however, because both boys, 23-month-old Juan and his 4-year-old brother Byron had both been sick. Parks and her husband, Jeff, were beyond exhausted from work, doctors visits, and overwhelming anxiety. On Sept. 7, Parks left her husband home with Byron, who was sick, and her plan was to drive Juan to daycare on her way to work. This was not her normal routine, however. Usually, she wouldn’t go to work if one of the boys were sick and she rarely took just one of those boys to daycare.
Parks explains in the magazine article that moments after she started driving, Juan fell asleep. It was the last time that morning that she would remember he was in the car.
Being that Juan was almost two years old, Parks was no longer taking anything to his to daycare, such as diaper bags. So, there were no baby items in the front seat. She couldn’t see Juan in the rearview mirror, either, because he was too short in his car seat. And, like most days, her other son, Byron, wasn’t there, babbling away. It was as if Juan wasn’t even in the car.
Instead of stopping at the daycare center, Parks drove right to work. She grabbed her purse from the front seat, went into her office, and had “a normal day.” While eating lunch at her desk, she called her husband to see how Byron was doing. She says in the article that she even remembers telling colleagues that - since Juan had been sick, too - she might have to leave early if a call came from daycare to get him.
After work, Parks drove to the supermarket and then to the daycare center to pick Juan up. When she arrived, his teacher asked, “Was Juan out sick today?”
“No,” said Parks. “I brought him this morning.”
“He wasn’t here today,” the teacher said.
Within moments, Parks remembered.
She took off running toward the car.
“I got to the car, jerked open the door, and saw him,” Parks states in the article. “I reached over to him. I remember screaming at him, ‘Juan! Juan! You’ve got to wake up!’”
Cradling her son’s stiff, still body - Parks ran inside the daycare office. One staffer tried to revive Juan with CPR; another called 911. But he was already dead.
I can’t even begin to imagine the excruciating guilt that Juan’s mother must have felt, and continues to feel today. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. But I vividly remember being extremely delirious and tired when my son was younger, and while it may seem unfathomable, I can see how incidents like these occur. It’s estimated that approximately half of hot-car-related deaths occur when parents have a change in their normal routine and forget a baby, who is often left sleeping quietly in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat of the car. I have so much sympathy for parents that have had to live this nightmare. I literally can’t begin to imagine.
However, on the other hand, there are parents who leave their children in hot cars on purpose. I have zero sympathy for them.
Just last week in Louisville, police arrested two people after finding a one-year-old child in the back seat of a car at a strip club. When police arrived, the child was crying and soaked in sweat, according to the arrest report. The parents told police they had been drinking. Thankfully, the child is doing fine and was placed in the custody of a relative. The parents were charged with wanton endangerment. And, get this, the father actually had the nerve to complain to police that the back seat of the cruiser was hot as he was transported to jail.
Three children across the country have already died this year in hot cars, including the earliest hot-car-related death ever reported in Kentucky. Last year, a record 49 children (including three from Kentucky) died after being left alone in cars. Since 2004, Kentucky has lost 13 children in hot cars, at least one every year.
In an effort to prevent these deaths from happening, the state of Kentucky launched a special program in Frankfort last week called, simply, “Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car.” The following are some tips that everyone should follow that could save a child’s life.
Top tips for preventing hyperthermia
• Dial 911 immediately if you see an unattended child in a car.
• Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even with the window slightly open.
• Place a cell phone, purse, briefcase, gym bag or whatever is to be carried from the car, on the floor in front of a child in a backseat. This triggers adults to see children when they open the rear door and reach for their belongings.
• Set your cell phone or Blackberry reminder to be sure you dropped your child off at day care.
• Set your computer calendar program, such as Outlook, to ask, “Did you drop off at daycare today?”
• Have a plan that if your child is late for daycare that you will be called within a few minutes. Be especially careful if you change your routine for dropping off little kids at day care.
• Teach children not to play in any vehicle.
• Lock all vehicle doors and trunk after everyone has exited the vehicle - especially at home. Keep keys out of children’s reach. Cars are not playgrounds or babysitters.
• Check vehicles and trunks FIRST if a child goes missing.
Source: Safe Kids USA, www.safekids.org