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Hidden Danger at the Playground

For mother of three Joan Mescall of Massapequa, frequent trips to the playground are part of the family’s regular routine. However, Mrs. Mescall’s idea of safety on the playground quickly changed last spring when her youngest son Gavin, then 14 months old, sustained a broken leg while riding down the slide on his big brother’s lap.

“Gavin was an early walker but I was worried that he’d fall off the slide, so I’d allow him to go down on his big brother’s lap – thinking that this was the safest way,” recalls Mrs. Mescall. “But what I thought was a means of protecting him, actually ended up hurting him.”

Gavin was seen by John T. Gaffney, DO, a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Winthrop-University Hospital and clinical professor at Stony Brook University School of Medicine. Dr. Gaffney treated Gavin for a fractured tibia – the major bone in the lower leg, also known as the shinbone. Ironically, Gavin was the seventh toddler that Dr. Gaffney treated that spring for a tibia fracture that resulted from going down the slide on another person’s lap.

Committed to preventing injuries, not just treating them, Dr. Gaffney began to examine the relationship between young patients who sustained tibia fractures on a playground slide and the mechanism of injury. He gathered medical records of all of the patients who he treated for fractured shinbones over the preceding 11 months.

Dr. Gaffney discovered that of the 58 fractures he treated, 13 were sustained on slides. What’s more, all of the slide-related injuries were found in patients 14 to 32 months of age and occurred while the toddler was riding on the lap of an adult or older sibling. The results of Dr. Gaffney’s study were recently published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics.

“While it is common practice for parents to think it is safer to place a young child on their lap and go down the slide together, it can lead to unexpected injury,” said Dr. Gaffney. “A young child may move while going down the slide and place his or her leg in a position where it becomes stuck between the slide and the parent’s leg, while both the adult and child continue moving down the slide. The child’s leg becomes twisted, creating a torque that can lead to a fracture in the lower extremity.”

“Parents of the patients in this study,” who often reported a crack or popping sound at the time of the incident followed by severe pain for the child, “were dismayed at the lack of public awareness that such a common practice could lead to a serious injury in their child,” added Dr. Gaffney.

Mrs. Mescall was one of those parents. “I read parenting magazines all the time and I’ve never heard about the dangers associated with a young child going down the slide on an adult’s lap,” she said.

While the results of Dr. Gaffney’s study may be surprising to some parents, Mrs. Mescall is grateful that Dr. Gaffney is passionate about the subject and wants to spread the word to parents about how to prevent injuries on the playground.

“As a parent, you are always trying to protect your children. It’s comforting to know that Dr. Gaffney really listens to parents’ concerns and took the time to look for connections in order to help them,” said Mrs. Mescall.

While playgrounds will continue to be a source of fun for parents and children alike, Dr. Gaffney cautions parents to consider alternate activities when necessary.

“If the child is too small to use the slide independently, another activity would be more appropriate,” he said.

For more information about pediatric orthopaedic services at Winthrop, call 1-866-WINTHROP.
Vol. 19, No. 3
Fall 2009

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