Accidents Leading Cause of Death in Kids: Report

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From emergency departments in rural Mexico to those in the America's heartland, the scenario always plays out the same: the accident happened so fast that the parent could do nothing to stop it.

"I hear the same words from parents," said Dr. Gary Smith of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "They say, 'Doctor, I can't believe this happened to my child. I was right there, it just happened so quickly, there was nothing I could do."

That's why Smith is determined to prevent such situations from happening altogether.

With one foot in public health and the other in the clinic, Smith has been hard at work with a singular goal: accidental injury prevention among children and adolescents -- the leading cause of death in that age group, according to the CDC.

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As director of the hospital's Center for Injury Research and Policy, he's published over a hundred studies on accidents, most recently an analysis of the rate of falls from windows in the U.S.

He's not motivated by personal tragedy. Though he has two teenage sons, neither has suffered any more than the normal bumps and bruises of childhood -- "maybe a laceration here and there, or a concussion during a sports game."

Still, Smith said it's "hard to find anyone who hasn't had someone close to them affected by injury," and so he's driven by the thought of one day not having to face so many suffering parents in his emergency room.

Focus on Prevention

During his 21-year tenure at the hospital, Smith has analyzed nearly every type of childhood injury imaginable: choking, furniture tip-overs, bath and shower slips, bunk bed crashes, cheerleading falls, gymnastics accidents, bumps from cribs and playpens, and problems on the playground.

In the latest study on pediatric falls from windows, he and colleagues found that rates have hovered at around 5,000 emergency department admissions per year.

Rates improved, however, in cities like Boston and New York, where fall-reduction programs had been implemented. New York, for instance, mandates that any dwelling with a child under age 10 must have window guards or stops.

"We know what works, we just need to apply it," Smith said. One way to do so, he figured, was to establish the hospital's Center for Injury Research and Policy in 1999.

"It didn't make sense to me, to continue to treat these (pediatric) injuries, when prevention was a much better solution," he said.

The center's goal is to spearhead accident prevention through a combination of research, education, and community involvement. In addition the center-sponsored research, literature for parents is offered on the center's website, and it sponsors community events, such as bike-helmet handouts.

Smith and his colleagues have also been involved at both the local and state level, supporting, for example, initiatives such as booster seat and bike helmet laws.

He has also been a key player on the national safety scene, as a vocal supporter of bike helmet campaigns, as well as serving on a CDC bike safety committee as a representative of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on injury, violence, and poison prevention.

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