Thursday, June 08, 2000

Kids and ATVs: Risky fun

Children's Hospital counts serious cases

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Matt Baker, with his dad Tom and mom Sue Ann, is recovering from a serious head injury.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
        Matt Baker wasn't planning on becoming a health statistic when he took off, without a helmet, for a nighttime ride on a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle over the Memorial Day weekend.

        But that's what happened.

        In the woods near Sunman, Ind., on May 28, Matt hit a bump, missed a turn and smashed into a tree. Instead of looking forward to getting his driver's license, Matt spent his 16th birthday fighting for his life at Children's Hospital Medical Center.

        “He was in intensive care for a week,” said his mother, Sue Ann Baker. “They had to do surgery on his brain to relieve the pressure. He has broken bones around his eye socket.”

        Children's Hospital officials say what happened to the Greenhills family wasn't an isolated case.

        Since 1991, the hospital has treated 110 young patients injured in ATV accidents, including one who died. Matt was among 11 ATV cases the hospital has treated in just the past two months.

  The American Academy of Pediatrics urges families that own ATVs to practice the following safety tips.
  • Children who are not licensed to drive a car should not be allowed to operate off-road vehicles.
  • Injuries often occur to passengers, so riding double should not be permitted.
  • All riders should wear motorcycle helmets including visors or face shields.
  • Parents should not permit night-riding or street use of off-road vehicles.
  • ATVs should be equipped with flags, reflectors and lights.
  • Parents should set the example by never riding an ATV after drinking alcohol.
        None of the recent cases was fatal, but one patient lost his sight, another lost a kidney and several suffered serious head trauma with unknown long-term effects.

        “Seeing 11 cases in two months is quite a spike, so we thought it was time to get a message out there,” said hospital spokesman Jim Feuer. “The vast majority of these kids were not wearing helmets.”

        Nobody knows how long Matt lay in the woods after the crash. He took off without permission while his par ents thought he was hanging out with two cousins, Mrs. Baker said. They knew he was missing only when the other boys arrived at the campfire without Matt.

        Suddenly frantic, family members searched along the darkened path. They found Matt after spotting the headlights of the overturned ATV, Mrs. Baker said. He was unconscious.

        University Air Care could not make the flight because of rain. Instead, an ambulance slogged through the mud to reach Matt and brought him to Margaret

        Mary Community Hospital in Batesville. Then a trauma team from Children's Hospital drove to Batesville to escort Matt back to Cincinnati.

        This is the season for ATV injuries. So this is the season for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to renew warnings it has made every year since 1987 about the dangers of children driving ATVs.

        Minibikes and dirt bikes for children have been around since the 1960s. While children often can drive low-powered vehicles safely, more modern and powerful four-wheel ATVs can hit speeds of 30 mph to 50 mph.

        In the June edition of Pediatrics, the AAP calls on all states to prohibit the use of two-wheeled and four-wheeled off-road vehicles by children under 16.

        It also wants the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban the sale of three-wheeled ATVs, and recall those already sold. Manufacturers have voluntarily stopped marketing three-wheeled ATVs. They also have agreed to promote training, conduct safety education campaigns and warn people not to allow children under 16 to use “adult-sized” ATVs.

        To the Academy of Pediatrics, those efforts are not enough. Every year, more than 54,000 people nationwide are injured and more than 200 killed in ATV accidents. About 36 percent of the deaths involved children under 16.

        Matt was lucky to survive the night of his injury. Doctors say he has made remarkable progress.

        He is walking — slowly — on his own. He has lost some short-term memory — including details of the crash — but he can talk and recognize his family.

        As for permanent damage to Matt's right eye, and whether he will have any long-term learning disabilities, only time will tell, Mrs. Baker said.

        Even as Mrs. Baker sat in her son's hospital room, describing pictures of her son in a football uniform, posing with his sister, and lying in the ICU with tubes down his throat, she said she wouldn't ban ATVs.

        “I don't think they should be outlawed. But an age limit of 16 might be a good idea,” she said. “And a mandatory training course, so that kids learn to respect what those things can do.”

        Mrs. Baker thanked family and friends for all their prayers for Matt's recovery. And she offered some advice for other parents.

        “Kids need to have a helmet. Parents need to make sure they wear it. You can't watch them every minute, but they shouldn't ride unsupervised. Take the keys out if it's not going to be supervised. And set rules about where they are allowed to drive.”


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