Tragedy a reminder to avoid fatal mistake

Published 3:49 pm Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ella Luong, an 11-month-old girl from Homewood, died last week after being left unattended inside an SUV for several hours.

Luong’s mother was distracted and forgot to drop the child off at daycare before heading to work at the family’s Genesis Nail Spa. When daycare officials called to check on Ella, that’s when her mother realized what had happened. The child was still strapped in her car seat in the locked Lexus parked outside the business.

Temperatures had climbed near 90 degrees that day. Authorities estimate the temperature inside the locked SUV reached 127 degrees.

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Luong’s story is one that is all too familiar, especially in the South. More than 650 children have died of heat stroke in vehicles in the last two decades, with more than half of those deaths occurring in the South where temperatures commonly near the 100-degree mark during the months of July and August.

According to the Center for Disease Control, cars parked in direct sunlight can reach internal temperatures up to 131 degrees to 172 degrees when outside temperatures are 80 to 100 degrees. Simply cracking a window isn’t enough to lower the temperature to a safe level for a child.

If you wonder what a parent who could let this sort of thing happen to a child looks like, well, look in the mirror. It can happen to anyone.

It happens to mothers and fathers, rich and poor, highly educated and less educated.

But these tragedies can be avoided.

The advocacy group Kids and Cars suggested that parents do things to make them less likely to forget — like put their purse or their laptop in the backseat with the baby, so they have to look in the backseat when they get to work. Another suggestion was to put a small teddy bear in the car. When the baby’s on board, put the teddy bear in the front seat as a visual reminder.

If you happen to pass by a car and discover an unattended child, dial 911 immediately.

Emergency medical professionals know how to determine whether a child is in trouble, but if a child is clearly distressed, be prepared to break a window as a last resort.

Distress signs can include red, hot and moist or dry skin; no sweating; strange behavior; nausea or vomiting. The child must be cooled as rapidly as possible.

Since 2000, more than 500 children have died as a result of being left alone in unattended vehicles.

With vigilance, and such a little change of routine as putting your cell phone on your back seat, we can make sure that number doesn’t continue to climb.