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Health Capsules: June 27

Midsummer heat magnifies dangers of leaving kids in cars

Even the best of parents or caregivers can unknowingly leave a sleeping child in a car, with potentially tragic results.

Since the mid-1990s, when children were required to ride in the back seats of cars due to hazards caused by front-seat airbags, the number of babies and young children who have died from heat exhaustion inside vehicles has risen dramatically. According to the nonprofit organization noheatstroke.org, there were 742 deaths of children in hot cars nationwide during the period from 1998 through 2017, with July being the deadliest month of the year. Twenty of these deaths occurred in Missouri. As of June 10, there had been 12 heatstroke-related deaths of American children in cars confirmed so far in 2018.

In more than half of instances [55 percent], a child asleep in the back seat was forgotten – or unknowingly left behind – by his or her caregiver. In another 27 percent, a child climbed into an unattended vehicle, closed the door and was unable to get out. And although parents may not believe such a tragedy could ever happen to them, this is unfortunately not the case. 

The simple fact is, cars turn into ovens in the hot sun, and even when outdoor temperatures don’t seem that high or cars are parked in a shaded area, closed vehicles quickly become hazardous. Temperatures in a car can soar to 120 or 130 degrees Fahrenheit even when the outdoor temperature is only in the 80s – and whether or not the windows are cracked open. Previous testing conducted by Consumer Reports showed that at a cool outdoor temperature of just 61° F, the temperature inside a closed car reached an extremely dangerous 105° F in just one hour. Children are especially vulnerable to heatstroke because their respiratory and circulatory systems can’t regulate temperature as well as an adult’s, and their bodies can quickly reach core temperatures which are potentially fatal.

Some car manufacturers already have taken steps to keep these tragedies from occurring. General Motors has introduced a Rear Seat Reminder warning feature designed to prevent children from being left behind, which was implemented in some GM vehicles beginning with the 2017 model year. Nissan and Hyundai are following suit with some of their newer models as well. Smartphone apps to remind parents about checking the back seat before leaving their cars also are available, including Precious Cargo, Kars4Kids Safety, and Waze Child Reminder. Sensor devices that can be placed into car seats, and even some seats with built-in sensor features, can be purchased at retail stores and online. 

Ultimately, though, responsibility for protecting kids from hot car dangers during the summer months rests with their parents and caregivers. To that end, the American Academy of Pediatrics provides the following guidelines to help:

• Never leave a small child alone in a car under any circumstances, not even for a minute and not even if the car and air conditioning are running.

• Avoid distractions while driving, especially using a cellphone.

• Keep your car locked when no one is in it to prevent children from climbing into unlocked vehicles. For older children, store car keys out of reach.

• Teach children that cars are not play spaces. Keep rear fold-down seats upright to stop kids from crawling into the trunk from inside the car.

• Consider using the “shoe trick.” Leave something in the back seat you can’t leave your car without, such as a shoe, cellphone or purse.

• Take extra precautions when your routine changes, such as when you take a different route to work or when someone else is driving your child. Ask your childcare provider to call you right away if your child is more than 10 minutes late.

• If you see a child alone in a back seat, call 911 immediately.

Lark or owl? The answer could impact your health

Many people think of themselves as being either morning people  – “larks” – or regularly burn the midnight oil as “night owls,” based on when they feel the most energetic and productive. But night owls beware:  a scientist at Northwestern University recently conducted research showing that consistently staying up late could have negative effects on health and mortality.

Kristen Knutson, from Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, led a study analyzing the bedtime habits of more than 430,000 adults over a period of 6.5 years, along with health issues in the study population. The team found that night owls were more likely to develop diabetes, as well as neurological and psychological disorders, than those who kept to an earlier bedtime schedule. They also were 10 percent more likely to die early than morning “larks.”

Knutson’s theory about these results is that being a night owl could somehow interfere with people’s biological “clocks,” which regulate physical, mental and behavioral processes over a 24-hour period. In response to light, the biological clock tells our bodies that it is time to be awake, while darkness tells us to go to sleep. But when night owls regularly expose themselves to light at a time when they should be sleeping, disrupting a healthy sleep/wake cycle, negative physical and mental effects may develop over time. Knutson’s results have been published in the journal Chronobiology International.

St. Luke’s receives highest level of state recognition for heart attack treatment

St. Luke’s Hospital recently was recognized by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services for its ability to quickly and effectively treat patients who have suffered the most severe and life-threatening type of heart attack.  

In May, St. Luke’s received the Level I STEMI designation, the highest of four levels of hospital certification statewide. The designation recognizes St. Luke’s for its ability to quickly and effectively treat heart attacks known as STEMI [ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarctions], in which blood flow is completely blocked to a portion of the heart.

The Level I designation specifies St. Luke’s as a heart attack center offering specially trained physicians and other staff members 24 hours a day to treat these medical emergencies. While the national goal for treating a patient experiencing a STEMI is 90 minutes from the time they arrive at the hospital, St. Luke’s median treatment time is 47 minutes, shorter than that of 90 percent of hospitals nationwide.

St. Luke’s joins three other hospitals in the West County area – Mercy Hospital St. Louis, Missouri Baptist Medical Center and SSM Health St. Clare Hospital in Fenton – to achieve the Level 1 STEMI designation.

On the calendar

A Red Cross community blood drive is on Thursday, July 5 from noon-4 p.m. at Mason Pointe Senior Living Community, 13190 S. Outer 40 Road in Town & Country.  To schedule an appointment, visit redcrossblood.org.

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Mercy Hospital St. Louis offers a Sitter Skills program for children between the ages of 11 and 13 on Friday, July 6 from 6-9 p.m. at the hospital’s campus, 615 S. New Ballas Road, in Classroom 2 on the seventh floor. The course offers information about infant care, child development, interactive play, safety, handling emergency situations and marketing babysitting services. Children are asked to bring a doll or stuffed animal to class to learn how to change diapers. A light snack will be provided. The course fee is $30 per child. Register online at mercy.net [click on Find Classes and Programs under the Resources tab].

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BJC sponsors a Family & Friends CPR course on Saturday, July 7 at the Children’s Specialty Care Center, 13001 N. Outer 40 Road in Town & Country, in the third floor conference room. The course offers instruction and hands-on practice for parents and child care providers for adult hands-only CPR, infant and child CPR with breaths, introduction to adult and child AED use, and relief of choking. It is taught by registered nurses using the American Heart Association’s curriculum. While the course does not offer CPR certification, participants will receive a card which certifies participation in the class. Cost is $25 per person [10-15-year-olds must be accompanied by an adult]. Register online by visiting https://classes-events.bjc.org/.

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St. Luke’s Hospital offers a Sitter Skills course on Monday, July 16 from noon-2:30 p.m. at the hospital’s Institute for Health Education, 222 South Woods Mill Road in Chesterfield [North Medical Office Building, Level 2].  This program was developed for beginning babysitters, age 11 and older, to help make their babysitting experience a success. Topics include information on safety, basic first aid, child development, behavior management and babysitting as a business. A babysitting resource book, certificate of participation, tote bag and light refreshments will be provided. The course fee is $25 per child. Register online [using the child’s name] at stukes-stl.com.

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