Motor vehicle injuries are one the leading causes of death among children in the United States. But many of these deaths could be prevented. Studies show that placing children in age- and size-appropriate car and booster seats can reduce serious and fatal car injuries by more than half. But remember, having the right car seat alone isn’t always enough—parents must make sure it has been installed correctly to fully protect the children who use them.
When Justine Novak brought her 3-year-old son Steven to a local bike helmet fitting and safety seminar, she though it’d be a nice way to spend an afternoon and double-check her son’s helmet. She had no idea that information she learned there would eventually save his life, and the life of his 1-year-old brother Charles.
The safety seminar was put on by the Injury Prevention Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, at the request of one of Justine’s neighbors. That morning Barbara DiGirolamo, MEd, an injury prevention specialist with the program, went to Justine’s neighborhood to check the helmets of all children in attendance to make sure they were the appropriate size and shape, and that they fit correctly. She also looked them over to ensure each was still in good, working condition because even a single crash can damage a helmet to the point where it’s no longer useful. Studies show that a child with an old, damaged or poor-fitting helmet is nearly twice as likely to sustain a brain injury in a bicycle accident.
After all the helmets were tested and adjusted to fit perfectly, DiGirolamo set up a bike obstacle course for the children, then handed out safety pamphlets to parents and offered them safety tips on a number of topics. Knowing she’d soon be in the market for new car seats because both Steven and Charles were outgrowing theirs, Justine asked DiGirolamo if she had any recommendations. She suggested Justine buy the seats directly through the Injury Prevention Program, which sells top-of-the-line car seats at cost, and then have a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) install them right into the vehicle. (If you prefer to buy a seat from another vendor, or already own a seat and just want to make sure it’s installed correctly, our safety technicians will assist you, free of charge.)
“My children had never been to Boston Children’s so not only did I not know they had such a program, I never would have imagined I was eligible to use it,” Justine says. “But it was easy. I made an appointment and two days later I was buying seats and having them professionally installed in my car, my husband’s and my mother’s cars.”
A little more than a month later, Justine learned just how valuable the trip to Boston Children’s had been. As she brought her car to a stop before making a turn, with both Steven and Charles in the back seat, her car was violently rear-ended. “The driver didn’t even attempt to stop,” she remembers. “He swerved then plowed right into us.”
The impact was so strong the car’s front end was lifted clear off the ground, skidding forward for nearly 30 feet on just three wheels. Once they came to a stop, Justine spun around to check on her boys, both of whom were sitting quietly, almost as if nothing had happened. “They were just siting there, tucked securely into their seats,” she says. “I don’t think either one of them even cried until they started to see me get upset a few minutes after the dust had settled.”
“Whoever put those car seats in saved your kids’ lives.”
While the crash had shaken Justine, it wasn’t until the following day at the junkyard that she truly appreciated how lucky they were to walk away so easily. She went by the car that morning to pick up a few items she had left in the front seat, but when she saw it, with multiple windows blown out and entire sections crumpled beyond recognition, the severity of the accident became crystal clear.
“The man who took me to the car had been the tow truck driver at the scene, and based on the damage he was shocked no one had been hurt,” she says. “When we got to the car, which was completely totaled, he said, ‘Whoever put those car seats in saved your kids’ lives.’ I couldn’t agree with him more.”
If you are interested in buying a car seat and/or having a Boston Children’s Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician check to make sure your seat is installed correctly, please call 617-355-7332, or visit the Injury Prevention Program website and check out the section on fitting stations. If you are interested in hosting a safety seminar similar to the one described in the blog, please use the same contact information.