Preventable tragedies: a pediatrician shares her stories on childhood safety

An 18-month-old toddler was rushed to the emergency room after her grandfather found her sitting on the floor, blood pressure and anxiety pills scattered beside her. She had a fistful of pills in her hand and white powder at the corner of her mouth. By the time she reached the ER, she began to have a seizure, requiring emergency medications to get the seizure under control.

A 2-year-old boy lies in the pediatric ICU, hooked up to a ventilator after emergency brain surgery. Earlier that day, he had pulled an unsecured TV off its wobbly stand, and his head was crushed under the weight of the TV.

A 4-year-old boy was admitted to the pediatric ward for the fourth time that year. Just a few months earlier, he had accidentally swallowed bleach that was stored in an empty Coke bottle, resulting in a scarred, narrowed esophagus. He had to return to the hospital every few weeks to endure the painful procedure that dilated his esophagus, in the hopes that one day he could eat solid foods again without vomiting.

All true stories of patients I have cared for in my years as a pediatrician. And unfortunately, I have dozens more stories I could tell.

I think if you asked any pediatrician, most would tell you they went into the practice of pediatrics because they truly love children. And most pediatricians would agree that one of our most important jobs is to do our very best to keep children safe. Whether it is instructing a new parent at the first prenatal visit on the best way to babyproof a house, questioning a 5-year-old if he wears a helmet when he rides his bike, or talking to a teen about the dangers of texting and driving, pediatricians are passionate about the safety of your children.

But because pediatricians only see a child for 10 or 15 minutes every couple of months, or even once a year as they get older, the burden of responsibility is on parents and caregivers to keep their children safe. Children have an innate curiosity that should be fostered but certainly not at the expense of safety. So parents: I urge you to become educated about how to keep your child safe if you haven’t already. Ask questions of your pediatrician. Read reliable sources. Get down on your hands and knees at your child’s level to make sure your home is safe. Secure your gun, and lock up the poisons. Have those tough discussions with your older child. Because I have seen the worst of the worst that can happen if you don’t. And I don’t want your child to be the next victim of a preventable tragedy.

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About Dr. Kristie Rivers, Bundoo Pediatrician

Dr. Kristie Rivers is an Attending Physician, Assistant Medical Director of the Pediatric Hospitalist Program, and Director of Pediatric Medical Education at a children’s hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She cares for hospitalized children and also teaches pediatric residents and medical students.

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