Each year in the U.S., window-related falls account for approximately eight deaths and 3,300 injuries in children age 5 and younger. In Hawaii, the numbers are three higher than the national average.
Local health care providers are hoping to change those statistics.
Four-year-old Evan English was smart and active, but his curiosity and a window ledge low enough for him to climb onto was a deadly combination.
He and his family had just moved into military housing back in 2011.
“Mom was there with them and she was pregnant,” said Dr. Stacey Quintero Wolfe, director of neurotrauma at Tripler Army Medical Center. “She stepped out just for a minute and in that time there was a window that was close enough for him to get up on to it.”
According to Quintero Wolfe, the window ledge was wide.
“He was able to get on to that and the screen was not sufficient to hold him in. He fell onto a concrete driveway and sustained a massive head injury,” said Quintero Wolfe.
Evan's death was just one of nine in Hawaii over the past 20 years, all window-related falls.
The number of injuries are even more startling -- from 2005 to 2011, 416 children in Hawaii fell from windows and required hospital services, 71 in 2011 alone.
Part of the problem: the widespread use of open windows to take advantage of our natural tradewinds.
But, Quintero Wolfe says Hawaii's minimal window safety laws may also be to blame.
By law, any window under 42 inches from the floor is required to have a window safety device, unless it has an insect screen.
“The problem with that mandate is that we have since found, when you look in the literature, almost all falls are happening through screens. The vast majority of them. So we know that insect screens are a very poor way of protecting children,” said Quintero Wolfe.
Hawaii law also requires safety rails on windows and lanais to be no more than four inches apart, but it only applies to newer buildings.
The state Health Department, Kapiolani Medical Center, Queens Medical Center and Tripler together are working on raising awareness of window-related falls recommending window safety devices like window guards or window stops, educate children about playing around windows, avoid placing furniture under or near windows and consider planting grass or shrubs underneath windows to break falls.
“Before I became a parent and before I started seeing head injuries from this, I really wouldn’t have imagined that kids fell out of windows. But it is something that happens and with serious consequences,” said Quintero Wolfe.
A report on window-related falls by Quintero-Wolfe in conjuction with Kapiolani and Queen's Medical Center is being submitted for publication in the Hawaii Medical Journal.