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911 Calls and Kids: Prepare for a Child Medical Emergency

Summer vacation is prime season for children to have accidents. Here's advice to help parents know what to do and expect if a crisis happens.

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A fall off the swing set yields a compound fracture of your 8-year-old's arm. A bee stings your toddler, whose breathing is now labored. Your little one has ventured too close to the campfire, and the burn is bad. Your instinct is to panic, but you know your next move may make all the difference. So, what do you do?

The stakes

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unintentional injuries – falls, drowning, burns, poisoning – make up the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children in the United States. In fact, every year more than 12,000 people ages 0 to 19 die from unintentional injuries while more than 9.2 million are treated in emergency rooms for nonfatal injuries.

Informally known as "trauma season" among emergency medical professionals, summer is known to bring with it a marked increase in unintentional injury and death among children. Per the CDC, the season is responsible for 27 percent of the year's ER visits.

According to the latest Safe Kids U.S. Summer Safety Ranking Report, a study published by Safe Kids Worldwide, almost 60 percent of total child unintentional injury deaths from May through August involved drowning, biking, falls, motor vehicle occupant activities and pedestrian incidents.

Dr. Sandy Vieder, chairman and medical director of the Botsford Hospital Trauma Center in Farmington Hills, sees all of these injuries spike with the arrival of warm weather. He'd also add to that list allergic reactions to insect bites, burns, heatstroke, and bone fractures – all injuries that can turn critical fast.

911 or drive to ER?

When every second counts, it is crucial for help to be dispatched to the scene of an emergency as soon as possible. Medical professionals sometimes refer to the first hour after a serious medical emergency as the "golden hour," because it is during that time that prompt medical care is most crucial to save a patient's life or limit the extent of injury.

Joyce Williams is the public affairs manager for Huron Valley Ambulance, based in Ann Arbor, which provides health transportation services in an eight-county service area in southeast Michigan and south-central Michigan. She notes that while it is not always apparent how serious an injury may be, there are certain signs and symptoms that demand an immediate emergency medical response.

"If the child isn't breathing, is unconscious or is bleeding profusely, call 911," says Williams, also a former nurse. "You, the parent, will know when to call 911 because you know the child better than anyone else. When in doubt, call.

"If the child wakes up and is fine, paramedics can always get there and leave," Williams continues. "But it's always good to have an ambulance on the way in case the child gets worse. Ambulances are like ERs on wheels. Paramedics can start treatment of the child on the way to the hospital. If you're driving the child to the hospital yourself and he or she gets worse on the way, you can't do anything. You'll have to pull over and call EMS, and that wastes precious time."

Vieder, who is also the medical director of Lakes Urgent Care in West Bloomfield, acknowledges that it may be difficult for panic-stricken parents to wait the three to five minutes it will take the ambulance to arrive on the scene – but do so, nonetheless. "The paramedics can get to you faster than you can get to the hospital," he says. "And they can begin treatment immediately upon arrival."

As for moving an injured child, Vieder says don't. "The concern with moving an injured child is causing additional injury, especially to the head and neck," he explains. "If your environment is unsafe and you must move the child, get others to help you if possible. You'll stabilize the head while others stabilize the body, so you can move in concert. This is only to be done if, for example, the child is in water or you're in the middle of the expressway."

Dispatch details

If possible, Williams encourages parents to use a land phone line to dial 911, as the caller's phone number, address and the nearest fire department and police station will automatically appear on the emergency dispatcher's computer screen.

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