As weather warms, doctors warn of danger of kids' falls from windows

June 1, 2015

SEATTLE ó Four young children have been treated at Harborview Medical Center here in the past month after falling from windows, prompting health officials to warn parents about the under-recognized danger.

"The most common scenario we see here is a kid who is being what most parents would consider well-supervised," said Dr. Brian Johnston, chief of pediatrics at Harborview. "They lean against a window screen, the screen pops out ó and they fall after it."

Last year 14 children were treated at Harborview alone after window falls, officials said. More than 330 children in Washington were hospitalized after such incidents between 2011 and 2013, according to the state Trauma Registry.

Local and state health officials recently held a news conference to highlight the problem.

Cassandra Rush, 33, of Issaquah, was among Washington state parents who never considered the danger of windows until her 5-year-old daughter fell 15 feet, face-first, onto a concrete slab last September.

"All I know is I was sitting downstairs with my son," recalled Rush. "And the next thing I know, I hear her screaming, ĎHelp me, Mommy, Iím hurt!í"

The girl suffered a traumatic brain injury, a concussion, damage to her right eye socket and sinus fractures. The kindergartner had to undergo surgery to correct the physical problems and still suffers from anxiety and stress related to the fall, Rush said.

Rush said the family, including her toddler son, had just moved into a new town house. Though they had installed other devices to childproof the home, they didnít think to worry about the windows, she said.

"I felt very guilty," Rush recalled. "I felt like I had let my kids down because I hadnít protected them the way I should have."

But statistics show itís a national problem, typically in the warmer spring and summer months. Nearly 5,200 children are treated in U.S. emergency rooms after falling out of windows each year, according to a 2011 study in the journal Pediatrics.

More than two-thirds of the injuries occur in children younger than 5, and head injuries are common because toddlers and preschoolers are top-heavy and frequently fall headfirst, according to the study led by Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Childrenís Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

This springís warm weather may be responsible for the spate of recent local incidents, said Julie Alonso, the child injury-prevention specialist for the state Department of Health. The parents open windows to let in fresh air and curious kids get too close.

"Thereís a lack of awareness by parents," Alonso said. "Thereís a real false sense of security from window screens."

Another problem is a lack of political will to require all windows to be installed with guards to prevent falls, Smith said.

"Itís always better to design the problem out of existence," he said.

In the meantime, parents and others can take action themselves. Window guards are effective, but they can be expensive and might not be allowed in rental housing. Window stops that allow windows to open only a few inches are another option.

State health officials recommend the Kid Co Window Stop, which limits how far a window can open but also allows it to be released without special tools during an emergency, Alonso said. Parents who want to order them online can go to the website

Cassandra Rush said she agreed to share her story to protect other children from getting hurt.

"I would never have thought of window locks until I knew what I know now," she said.



McClatchy-Tribune Information Services