According to a recent CNN article, as of the end of July 2017, the number of children who died of heatstroke from being left in hot cars has soared. So far this year, 29 children in the U.S. have died. And according to noheatstroke.org, Florida is in the top five worst states for such deaths, with 77 deaths in the past 18 years.
But St. Petersburg College Nursing Faculty Member Jeanne Siegel was recently honored by her alma mater, the University of Alabama’s Capstone College of Nursing, for her work to prevent child deaths in hot cars. Siegel, who graduated last May with her Doctorate in Nursing Practice, was given the Innovation in Practice Award in August for her scholarly project, “Promoting Parental Behaviors that Prevent Motor Vehicle Heatstroke”.
Siegel said she was inspired to pursue this project after a 2014 Tampa Bay Times article, which revealed high numbers of instances in the area of children – usually around age two or younger – needing rescue from hot vehicles after parents left them there. These tragedies area almost always unintentional, and often happen when parents have a lot on their minds or are experiencing a break in routine.
“I wanted to find out what behavior parents of infants would be willing to adopt to prevent them from forgetting their child inside a motor vehicle,” Siegel said.
Siegel, who is also a pediatric nurse practitioner, was lauded in her recommendation for the award for her educational background, certifications, honors, awards and professional positions.
“The project was highly innovative and has the potential to lead to the development of the first-ever clinical practice guidelines for prevention of heatstroke in children,” Siegel’s professor, Barbara Ann Graves wrote.
Siegel said she wanted to focus on behaviors to adopt to try to prevent parents from leaving their children in cars, because most of the information on the subject was after the fact.
“We want to go where kids go: pediatrician offices, hospitals, community health centers,” she said. “I went to the Meese-Countryside Hospital post-partum unit to implement instruction for new parents. You have to tell people to not let their kid roll off a table, and you also have to tell them how to prevent leaving their child in the car.”
Some strategies for parents to prevent a tragedy include “looking before they lock”, and putting a purse or wallet in the back seat with the child. Siegel said there are devices available to alert parents if they are getting out of a car with a baby in the back, but they are often unreliable. Senators Al Franken and Richard Blumenthal recently introduced legislation requiring all new passenger vehicles to be equipped with a child safety alert system. In fact, General Motors has already introduced a Rear Seat Reminder.
“It’s good news that auto companies are now beginning to include technology to alert people who opened the back door before they got in the front seat, whether it was to load a baby or to toss a briefcase in the back.”
Siegel said the award, which came with a letter, a certificate and a Lexan plaque, was a big surprise. She is now working on publishing her research in a pediatric journal.
“I was surprised and honored to be recognized for carrying out a study about this serious topic,” Siegel said. “More preventative strategies have to be implemented because we are losing kids every single day. And it could happen to anyone.”