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Prevention is key for traumatic injuries among children

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Daily Herald | May 11, 2022

Photo supplied, Intermountain Healthcare

Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City is shown in this undated photo.

Trauma is the number one killer of children across the world. In the United States, close to 10,000 kids die every year, about one per hour, and thousands more are injured and can be left with a serious disability.

“Prevention is key to keeping our kids safe, but if injury does occur, we are here and ready 24 hours a day, every day of the year to give the best care possible,” said Dr. Katie W. Russell, trauma medical director at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital and assistant professor of surgery at the University of Utah’s division of pediatric surgery.

Russell said the most common types of trauma injuries among kids are motor vehicle accidents, drowning, poisonings, burns, sports injuries, firearms and falls. Button batteries have also been a problem.

“In Utah, we also see a large number of ATV crashes and dirt bike injuries,” Russell said. “In terms of injury patterns, we see many traumatic brain injuries every year that range from mild concussions to severe injury requiring surgery or causing death. We also see a large number of orthopedic injuries or fractured bones.”

Swallowing button batteries are particularly dangerous in toddlers. They can cause serious injury to the esophagus or large blood vessels in the chest and can even cause death, Russell said, adding parents need to keep these batteries secured safely and away from small children.

May is National Trauma Awareness Month and Russell said she wants people to know trauma is the most common reason for hospitalization and death in children. Last year, the hospital treated around 1,500 trauma injuries.

“We treat every type of trauma,” Russell said. “We are the only Level I pediatric trauma center in the state, meaning we are recognized by the American College of Surgeons as being prepared to give the most advanced and specialized care to kids after injury.”

Jessica Strong, community health director at the hospital, said there are several precautions parents and their kids can take to try to avoid a serious trauma.

“We want our kids to wear helmets for every ride, every time,” she said. “A fall at any speed can cause a serious head injury. This includes wearing a helmet while riding scooters, dirt bikes, ATVs, roller blades, skateboards, long boards or hover boards.”

Parents should make sure the helmet fits properly, Strong said.

Strong said data shows using car seats decreases mortality by 71% for children younger than a year. In older children and adults, death and serious injury decreases 50% with the use of a seat belt.

In addition, bringing babies and toddlers to pools or beaches can be a wonderful experience, Strong said, which is why it’s vital to supervise them around any body of water.

“When in a group, it’s a good idea to dedicate a water watcher who is solely focused on watching the children and won’t be distracted by a phone call, text, or side conversation,” Strong said. “This is a duty that can be rotated in 15-minute shifts. Some families choose to wear a lanyard with a water-watcher card as a reminder of who is on shift.”

It’s also a good idea to check your home and yard for hidden water hazards, she said. Kiddie pools, bathtubs, or even buckets can be hazardous to top-heavy toddlers who could fall head first and may not be able to get out by themselves. When not in use, drain kiddie pools and turn other containers upside down to prevent injury.

Strong also stressed the importance of firearm safety. In Utah, 85% of all gun deaths in are by suicide.

“The youth suicide rate here is also one and a half times that of the national rate, but suicides are preventable,” she said. “Putting time and distance between a person in crisis and that person’s access to lethal means can save lives.”

What to know about injury prevention

Wear a helmet

Parents should make sure the child’s helmet fits properly. Kids outgrow helmets, just like they outgrow clothes or shoes. Here are some tips:

  • The helmet should fit snugly and sit level on your child’s head.
  • The helmet should fit two finger widths above your child’s eyebrow
  • For the side strap: Make a V shape under your child’s ears with the strap and clasps.
  • Under the chin: You should be able to fit one adult’s finger between the child’s chin and the strap.

Buckle up: Seat belts, car seats and boosters save lives

Children in car seats and booster seats should always ride in the back seat of the vehicle, where they will be safer in the event of a crash. Here are some car-seat safety tips:

  • Children should ride rear-facing in their car seats until they are at least 2 years old and 30 pounds, or even longer if the car seat allows.
  • Children can ride forward-facing with a harness at least until the turn 4 years old or reach 40 pounds – or longer if the car seat allows.
  • Children who are at least 4 years old and 40 pounds can ride in a booster seat. The child should use the booster seat until the seat belt fits correctly (rests on the sternum) and until the child is 4′ 9″ tall.
  • All children under the age of 13 should ride in the back seat.
  • Always buckle up to stay safe and set a good example.

Water Safety

Here are some other tips to keep tots safe at the pool or lake:

  • Teach children to swim.
  • Have children wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets instead of water wings, which can deflate or fall off a child’s arms. Many public pools offer life jackets to rent or borrow.
  • If you have a pool, keep a locked gate around it at all times.
  • If a child is missing, always check nearby water first.
  • Teach children to stay away from water while hiking or camping.
  • If a child falls into rushing water, call 911. Don’t jump in after them.
  • Learn CPR.

Firearm safety

  • If there is someone in distress in your home, the safest thing is to remove all firearms from the home. You can have a friend or family member “babysit” them.
  • Store firearms in a gun safe or tamper-proof storage box with a unique secret code. Change the code frequently.
  • Use a gun lock on each firearm, and store ammo in a separate, secure location.
  • If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800)273-TALK.
  • For more resources, see the Primary Children’s Hospital’s injury prevention campaign, Hold On To Dear Life, at PrimaryChildrens.org/safety.


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