Hot Town, Summer in the City…
Karen Moalem, MD
Attending, General Pediatrics
Last week, while walking around my neighborhood in Bay Ridge, I was surprised to come across 5 or 6 news vans parked along Third Avenue, with reporters, photographers, and on-lookers everywhere. In case you missed this local story, a one year-old child had climbed out of a second story window, falling on to the awning of a yogurt shop below. He was seen dangling off of the awning by a local schoolteacher biking to work, who managed to position herself beneath the baby and catch him unharmed, save for a bloody nose. While the story was sensational due to the identity of this local hero (Cristina Torre, daughter of Joe Torre of New York Yankees fame), to me it was a compelling reminder, so close to home, of our important role as pediatricians in keeping children safe.
New Yorkers are no strangers to the potentially tragic reality of children falling out of windows. Most people will remember when Eric Clapton’s four year-old son tumbled to his death from the 53th floor of a Manhattan high-rise in 1991. For decades before that, there had been a high incidence of similar fatalities across all boroughs, prompting the creation of an educational campaign by the NYC Department of Health in the early 1970’s. This campaign, called “Children Can’t Fly,” was the first of its kind in the nation. It utilized the media as well as door-to-door educators and community outreach volunteers to promote public awareness of the dangers of window falls. Safety tips, window guards, and even home inspections were provided. Most importantly, a law was passed requiring landlords in high-rise buildings to provide window guards in apartments where children under the age of 10 were living. These efforts were tremendously successful, decreasing the incidence of falls by as much as 50% within just a few years.
But there is more work to be done. The rates of falls from windows among U.S children have remained stable since the 1970’s. According to a study published in Pediatrics in 2011, approximately 5,200 children are treated for injuries related to such falls annually. That is 14 children each day! Of the children studied, about 60% were boys. The peak incidence of falls was for toddlers ages 1-2, and two thirds of all cases were of children under the age of five. The type and severity of injury varied by age: as younger children are relatively top-heavy, they tend to fall head-first out of a window, sustaining injuries to the head, face, neck, and spinal cord. In contrast, children ages 5-17 in this study were more likely to sustain a fractured limb. But perhaps the most significant “discovery” in this study was that the vast majority of falls were from a first or second floor window, not the high-rise buildings!
Bearing this fact in mind, we can all take part in increasing awareness to the perils of windows for ALL children, regardless of where they live. To help keep our children safe, we can offer our patients the following safety tips:
-Use window guards, locks, or wedges
-Windows should not be open more than four inches
-Double hung windows are safer with the top pane open
-Move furniture away from windows so children cannot use it to climb
-Screens are NOT a safe barrier
-Make sure that window safety mechanisms are removable by an adult in case of fire