By Huy Nguyen

“One moment she was there, and the next she was gone,” Jen said with a shocked expression when she saw me in the clinic.

Three summers ago, Jen and her four year-old daughter, Cara, were relaxing in their second-floor apartment, trying not to sweat in the humid, 85 degree summer heat. The windows were wide open, but the breeze was warm and did little to cool them off.

A quick look out of the window confirmed to Jen that the children laughing and squealing on the sidewalk below were spraying each other with water from a garden hose. The next scream, though, sounded entirely different. It was closer, scared, and sounded like her daughter. By the time Jen turned back to look for Cara, her daughter had fallen through the window down two stories to the ground below.

Just moments before, Cara had climbed up onto the back of the sofa near a window and pressed her face and hands against the screen to see her friends below. But screens are designed to keep out insects, not to hold the weight of a child. The screen gave way and in an instant, Cara had fallen out.

Each year, nearly 5,200 children fall out of windows in America, most often between April and September. Young boys under five years old are most at risk. In fact, children under five years old who fell were three times more likely to be diagnosed with a head injury and sixty-five percent more likely to be hospitalized or die than older children. The most serious injuries result from falls from three stories or higher, but many children fall out of two-story windows, as well.

The good news is that window falls can be prevented. Here are simple things families can do to prevent this serious injury:

  • Lock all unopened doors and windows;
  • Keep furniture that a child can climb on away from windows;
  • Open windows from the top, not from the bottom;
  • Supervise children at all times; and
  • Install child safety window guards.

The Boston Public Health Commission has more information available through their Kids Can’t Fly campaign online at www.bphc.org/kidscantfly or by calling 617-534-5197. This campaign has been shown to reduce the incidence of window falls in Boston by more than ninety-five percent over ten years.

Today, Jen and her daughter Cara, whose names I have changed to protect their privacy, are ready for the summer. But three years ago after Cara fell out of her home’s second story window, Jen found her crying in the thick hedge of bushes that lined the foundation of her building. After a tense ambulance ride and emergency department evaluation, Cara walked home, shaken but fortunately with only scratches on her face and arms. The bushes had absorbed the impact of her fall. Jen wisely decided not to take any chances, though. The very next day, she asked her landlord to install child safety window guards. She also moved all of her furniture away from the windows.

Every year since the accident, the longer days, warmer weather, and school vacation remind Jen to prepare for all that the summer can bring. Now when she brings in Cara to see me for her summer camp physical examination, she confidently declares, “This summer I am ready—there will be no surprises!”

Dr. Huy Nguyen is the medical director at the Boston Public Health Commission and a pediatrician at the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center.

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