"OK, I am calling the police NOW"

Those were the words I finally uttered in frustration in the waiting room of my vet's office.

I was bringing my pet cockatiel in for a visit when I spied a young child alone in a closed car on a hot Baltimore afternoon in the parking lot. The mother of the child was in the vet's office collecting her very large dog (I have no idea what kind) with the help of an older man (who I later discovered was the child's grandfather). They both looked at me like I was crazy when I first inquired about who might have left the infant in the car, and why.  The receptionist was a bit confused; being all of about 19 years old, she was not accustomed to clients arguing in the waiting area. I knew she was thinking she just wanted to be rid of all of us, but you see, the dog was not being cooperative.

The baby's mother looked at me and said, "you can see how it requires two of us to move him (the dog) and keep him under control. Don't worry it will just be another 5-10 minutes."

"FIVE TO TEN MINUTES!! YOUR BABY COULD DIE OR BE SERIOUSLY INJURED FROM THE HEAT INSIDE YOUR CAR IN THAT AMOUNT OF TIME. I will have to call child protective services and let them know you have placed your child in a dangerous situation. At the very least, they will investigate you for neglect or failure to supervise your baby properly."

Now the receptionist was really upset. I could see her brain waves revolving. How much trouble would she be in if one of her clients called to report the other? This could be really messy.

They all tried to ignore me, which is when I uttered the words in the headline, and reached for my cell phone. Finally, that got action, and the woman huffed, and reluctantly went outside to open the BMW and check on the infant.

She finally got the baby out of the car, brought her into the vet's office, where the receptionist volunteered to hold the baby while the two adults wrestled with the dog and finally got him calmed enough to put him in his crate in the car. Then they left, giving me dirty looks while they pulled out of the parking lot.

It didn't seem to matter to them that I was a doctor, a pediatrician, an intensivist.

It didn't seem to matter when I explained to them that I had seen infants suffer irreparable brain damage or death from being in a closed hot car for as little as 15 minutes.  The mom, you see,  had left other babies in parked cars, and nothing had happened to them, so she decided I must be crazy. But I am not crazy. It does happen. And, yes I would have called the police in the next instant if they hadn't eventually responded.

I am funny like that. I may be in big trouble some day, when some one doesn't like my attitude, such as when I see unsecured children riding in a motor vehicle that stops at a light. I usually tell the adults (if I can get their attention) they are putting their child's life at risk. I stop children from doing dangerous things when I see them in the mall, while the parents are not paying attention. I can't help it. I love children so much, and have spent so much of my life treating critical illness, and watching children die, that I just can't stand by quietly and allow "accidents" to happen.

I have relayed this story here because of the recent death in Roanoke of a child from Danville (http://ggweather.com/heat/16_2011.htm) who was left in a car, and died from complications of heat injury several days later. This death has been weighing on my mind, as a senseless and totally preventable death. I have been sad, and I have been angry. I am happy that a bystander called the police, because at least the other 2 passengers recovered.

I just want everyone to know about how dangerous it is for young children, the elderly or pets to be left in a (hot) car for any amount of time. Your thought of "just five minutes" can easily turn into 15 or 20 unexpectedly.  Just commit to NEVER, NEVER do it. No matter what. No matter how hard it is to cart your kids in and out of their carseats. No matter how urgently you need to get something done.


There, now I feel better. I hope you will join me in trying to save children's lives from this and any other risky situation you may find. Thanks.

Recent Comments

I have called the police to report children left in the car. I could care less if someone gets mad at me. That is a very bad decision to make. Nothing is so important that you can't take the extra minutes to take the kids out. Heat isn't the only dangerous thing either. I can't even stand to sit in the car in the heat. How could a small child manage it if an adult can't. I could go on and on... I am glad there are other people out there willing to call attention to it.

Me too

Recently, while watching my kids at the neighborhood pool, I noticed a small child at the bottom of the pool. The pool always has two lifeguards on duty but this was a busy Saturday. There were way too many kids for a teenage lifeguard to watch. So even though it had been at least 10 years since my lifeguard certification expired I instinctively jumped into the pool to save this toddler. After I pulled him to the surface the child gave me a big smile. In his hand was a small toy he was retrieving from the bottom of the pool. It was now that I realized this kid didn't need saving at all. As I turned around in the pool to check on my own kids, every eye in the pool was now staring at me. Including my 9 year old daughter who was laughing hysterically at me. She thought it was great that her dad just jumped into the pool to save a little boy that didn't need saving. Whether it was my lifeguard training, my pediatric training, or just being a parent that pulled me into pool that day I don't know. But at least my daughter got a good laugh out of it.

I can't tell you the number of times I have created humor for my kids' benefit, albeit unknowingly. Just wait til yours are teens; it gets even better (by that I mean worse). Thanks for being a great parent, even for other people's kids.

Call 911! That is the nationwide message we are advocating for any child who is seen by the general public that is left alone in a vehicle. More children died last year from being left in vehicles than years past, and there have already been 17 hyperthermia deaths nationwide this year. More information can be found at www.safekids.org/nlyca and at ggweather.com/heat.

Thanks Jill. We do depend upon the public to be eyes and ears regarding safety. No one should worry about making a mistake or being reluctant, especially when the driver of the car is nowhere to be seen. And remember, every minute counts!

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About Dr. Ackerman

Alice Ackerman, MD, MBA, FAAP, FCCM is the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Carilion Clinic and Professor and Founding Chair of Pediatrics at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Dr. Ackerman is recognized nationally as an expert in pediatric critical care.

She has been at Carilion Clinic since June of 2007. Her primary goals are to enhance the health care of children in the Roanoke Valley and Southwest Virginia, and is actively working to do this both as physician in chief of the children's hospital, as well as through involvement with many state-wide initiatives.

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