Texas’ New Child Vehicular Heatstroke Law: What It Means to Me

The Sun is Setting on Vehicular heatstrokeI received a call on the evening of Friday, June 19, 2015, which brought me to tears for the remainder of the weekend. Tears of bittersweet joy; tears of validation from four exhausting years of battle against the often unknown danger of Child Vehicular Heatstroke (aka child hot car deaths or vehicular hyperthermia) due to Forgotten Backseat Baby Syndrome (FBS); and most importantly, tears of HOPE.  What was the origin of such passionate tears?  The signing of Texas HB2574 into law by Governor Abbott that day. This law adds the danger of child vehicular heatstroke to the list of topics that must be reviewed with parents of newborns prior to hospital discharge as required by the Texas Health and Safety Code.  It is unique in the setting of vehicular heatstroke laws in that it provides for information and resources for PREVENTION of children being left unattended in vehicles BEFORE a child enters a vehicle for the first time.  Other vehicular heatstroke laws only address punishment for leaving children unattended in vehicles or exemption from prosecution of good samaritans who break into vehicles to rescue unattended children.

My Vehicular Heatstroke StoryONE WRONG TURN to Tragedy

My entire household overslept on the morning of May 25, 2011.  I was awakened by Ray Ray’s sweet giggles and kisses on my face, followed by a glance at the clock that read 9:43 am!!!!  We rushed to get ready for our day, then I followed my husband and child to his truck, where we both placed Ray Ray securely in her car seat.  I waved as they descended down the driveway, then carried on with my workday.  ray ray family pic 2011I had no idea that a tragic error, one that would decimate my family, would be made in the next seven minutes: a RIGHT turn at a critical traffic intersection instead of the LEFT turn required to reach Ray Ray’s childcare center.

Fast forward less than three hours later.  I picked up my husband at his office for a quick lunch date.  We talked during that drive about our little princess and how beautiful she was in her new dress, a birthday gift from her teacher, for “Tropical Day” at the daycare.  Then, as I pulled into the parking lot, my husband said to me, “Go back to the office”. I asked why. He repeated, “just go back to the office…. Immediately”.  As I approached a red traffic light, he instructed me to run the light…this was so weird to me, so I asked:  “WHAT is going on?”  Then my world started spinning as I heard his words:  “I can’t remember dropping Ray Ray off at daycare this morning”.

As I sped to the office, I instructed him to call the office and have them check the truck.  At the same time, I called the daycare….almost simultaneously as I heard confirmation from her teacher that she was not present, the office manager told my husband that they removed her from the truck.  Two calls to 911 were placed within one minute of each other, one by me, the other from the office.  Despite all of our efforts to save her, Sophia Rayne (aka “Ray Ray”), my soulmate, was pronounced dead at 2:49 pm.  My soul died as she did, and my heart broke into millions of pieces, some of which would never be recovered….In short, my entire world crumbled into dust.  Sadly, there would be many more cases that summer, and in the years since, many whose stories sounded EXACTLY like ours:  a forgotten childcare drop-off by a responsible parent. Many of them also originating from one wrong turn on the morning of that fateful drive.

Child Vehicular Heatstroke:  Just the Facts

jan null airbag vs heatstroke death - graphChild vehicular heatstroke is the leading non-traffic cause of fatalities for children under 14 years of age.  According to data from noheatstroke.org by Jan Null, CCM, at least 647 children have perished since 1998 from this often unrecognized, commonly misperceived danger to child passenger safety.  Most of these children were mistakenly forgotten in the backseat by good parents, victims of ‘Forgotten Backseat Baby Syndrome’ (FBS; an unintended consequence of moving children to the backseat in the 1990s).  They were most frequently on their way to a childcare provider when they were tragically forgotten.  The second most common source of child hot car deaths:  UNLOCKED CARS! Almost 30 percent of cases involve children gaining access to an unlocked vehicle then becoming trapped inside.  Sadly, nearly 75 percent of all child hot car deaths involve children under the age of two (Data on file, Ray Ray’s Pledge).

The NEW Vehicular Heatstroke Law in Texas (HB2574)

Reqd Safety Info for Parents of Newborns TX

Texas leads the nation in child hot car deaths.  As of this writing, at least 96 little Texans have died from vehicular heatstroke since 1998. My precious Ray Ray was number 74.  Prior to my loss, I had NEVER heard about the remote possibility of a sane, responsible parent forgetting one’s child in the backseat under the perfect storm of conditions such as change in routine, sleep deprivation, and/ or stress paired with a fateful distraction while driving (eg: a wrong turn, road construction leading to detoured route, being cut off in traffic by another driver, an emergency phone call)….NOT at my OB appointments, not in the numerous parenting classes we took as nervous first-time parents-to-be, not at the hospital after she was born, and not in our pediatrician’s office. I have waged my own war against child vehicular heatstroke over the past four years to change that for other families.  NO child should have to die for a family or a community to learn about this danger to child passenger safety for the first time.  The new vehicular heatstroke education requirement prior to newborn hospital discharge in Texas provides the first critical step to making sure that parents are informed of the dangers of children left unattended in vehicles WITHOUT a child having to die in order to gain such knowledge.  Texas HB2574 gives me hope and new inspiration to fight even harder in my war to end child vehicular heatstroke.  As a parent survivor of a vehicular heatstroke victim, I am so proud of the team of citizens and legislators who made this possibility a REALITY.  Further, I feel validated that, FINALLY, child vehicular heatstroke will be recognized as a danger as pertinent to new parents as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

RRP logo 2014A Call to Action for Other States

In conclusion, I urge parents from other states to contact your legislators and demand the same vehicular heatstroke education for new parents. Though not foolproof, early preventive education of a too-often unknown danger to child passenger safety is a great start to driving to zero child hot car deaths.  The life that is saved by such information could be YOUR child!

For more information and resources related to child vehicular heatstroke, please visit our website:  www.RayRaysPledge.com.

About the Author

Dr. Reeves-Cavaliero currently works as a Senior Medical Scientist for a major biopharma company. She received her Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree with Honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and performed her residency training in pharmacy practice with a focus in critical care at the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Reeves-Cavaliero possesses more than a decade of clinical experience in both academic teaching hospitals and community hospitals, and she also has extensive experience within the pharmaceutical industry. Dr. Reeves-Cavaliero dedicates her free time to educating parents and raising community awareness of the risks of child car deaths due to heatstroke, and she serves as a Hyperthermia Awareness Parent Advocate for Safe Kids USA. Moreover, Dr. Reeves-Cavaliero is the co-founder of Ray Ray’s Pledge, a program that was developed in response to the untimely death due to heatstroke of her one-year old daughter, Sophia Rayne (“Ray Ray”) Cavaliero.

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