July 10, 2018 -- A New York mom is warning parents against a common move on the playground: putting a young child in your lap to go down a slide.
Heather Clare’s daughter, Meadow, had just turned a year old, and just taken her first steps, when a trip down a playground slide in September 2015 sent her to the emergency room to treat two broken bones in her lower right leg.
Meadow’s dad captured the terrible moment his little girl’s foot caught on the edge of the slide as she rode in Mom’s lap. In the photo, which has recently gone viral on social media, you can see her foot turned at an unnatural angle as her leg snaps under the momentum of her mom’s weight.
“I felt it get stuck,” Heather says. “In that picture, I’m using one hand to try to stop and the other to try to release her leg.”
“I didn’t know how bad it was until we got to the bottom. She was crying a cry I’d never heard before,” she says.
They raced Meadow to the emergency room, where X-rays showed fractures in both of her lower leg bones. She spent 4 weeks in a pink cast and 6 more months in physical therapy learning how to crawl and walk all over again.
“I would just look at her and cry,” Heather says. “The hardest part was knowing that I put her in that position. I felt so much guilt because I felt like it was a really avoidable injury, and it was 100% my fault.”
Like so many other parents, Heather had assumed it was safer to hold her daughter than let her slide on her own.
'Toddler's Fracture': Most Common Slide Injury
Meadow has made a complete recovery, but she still goes to the doctor every six months to make sure her legs are growing the way they should.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of it,” says Charles Jennissen, MD, a clinical professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Jennissen studied the problem after talking to colleagues and realizing that a lot of ER doctors had noticed lower leg fractures in children who were riding in an adult’s lap down a slide.
He combed through records collected by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a database of injuries related to consumer products maintained by the federal government.
He found that broken bones were the most common injury to children on slides.
Children younger than 3 were notably at risk. They were 12 times more likely than older kids to be identified as riding on a lap at the time of their injury. The most common injuries in these children were fractures of the lower leg and ankle.
“The type of injury they get is called a toddler’s fracture,” Jennissen said. “They get a crack in their mid- to lower leg bone.”
Jennissen says these fractures are sometimes tough to diagnose because the crack can be difficult to see on an X-ray.
“Some of these kids, even though there’s a fracture, they can still walk on it. They can bear weight and even limp around,” he says.
He saw lots of examples of toddlers being diagnosed with lower leg sprains or strains. He thinks many of those may have been broken bones that were missed.
“The younger the child, the less likely they are to have a sprain/strain because the weakest part of the musculoskeletal system is their bones,” he says. “They’re more likely to get a fracture.”
Jennissen has seen the photo of Heather and Meadow. He says it shows exactly what ER docs have long suspected.
“The foot gets caught on the edge of the slide and possibly the bottom of the slide. They’re wearing a little rubber-soled shoe, so that kind of catches. And when you have all this weight of an adult pushing all this momentum down the slide, that just causes a torquing force on the lower leg and breaks it,” he says.
He says parents are beside themselves when they bring a child in after a slide accident. “They never knew this could have happened,” he says.
Jennissen says he’s even seen pediatric residents -- doctors who are training to take care of kids -- have this happen to their own kids.
Spreading the Word
Now, Jennissen and Clare share the same mission: to get the word out about this common and preventable injury.
Heather Clare was reluctant to share her photo with the world because “people can be cruel on the Internet.”
She posted the photo privately on Facebook for the past 2 years, anytime the weather would warm up, as a warning to friends.
Then another mom friend, who works in a hospital ER, encouraged her to go public.
“She said, ‘We see this 3 to 5 times a week in the emergency room.’ That was mind-blowing to me,” Clare says.
So now, she’s speaking out. She’s been interviewed on the Today show and Inside Edition, and she’s been the subject of dozens of print articles. She’s collecting the news coverage to try to convince local leaders in her hometown of Kings Park and others to post signs at playgrounds about the dangers of letting parents, grandparents, or even older siblings ride with young children down the slide.
“If it can help even one family avoid this, it’s worth it.”S