“I really hope that by sharing Oliver’s story, we can prevent another family from having to go through this,” says Mike, Oliver’s dad. “The last six weeks have been some of the most difficult times of our lives.”
Last year, BC Children’s Hospital treated 15 children after they fell from windows or balconies. So far this year, BC Children’s has treated at least eight children for these same types of falls.
Oliver fell from the window of their home on April 10. The family were making dinner before taking the two older children to baseball. The children, aged 4, 6 and 8, were playing around the house. One was colouring, one was reading a book and, as Mike later found out, the youngest was building a ladder to a window.
Oliver had piled up his blankets, pillows and even his bathroom stool to reach the window.
Mike’s wife heard Oliver yell, “I’m stuck, I’m stuck!” and went to check on him. When she got to the room, it was empty and the window was open. She yelled for Mike, who sprinted to the side of the house and found Oliver on the concrete walkway with severe head injuries.
Mike and his wife are health-care professionals and could see that Oliver was severely injured. Paramedics arrived and took him first to Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver, then to BC Children’s. Mike works in the Lions Gate emergency department so it was his friends and coworkers rushing to treat Oliver.
“I think that’s one of the most tragic calls that a paramedic or a first-responder can attend,” says paramedic specialist Jodi Butterman, part of the team that cared for Oliver. “We’re reminding parents and caregivers that windows and balconies can be a serious safety hazard.”
Oliver spent seven days in the BC Children’s Intensive Care Unit with severe skull fractures and significant bleeding and swelling to his brain.
“We were advised that he would be walking a tightrope for the next five days,” says Mike.
On the fifth day, Oliver woke up. When his breathing tube was removed, he let out the quiet cry, “Daddy.”
“Words cannot express the feeling of relief that we felt knowing that we were going to get our little boy back,” says Mike.
Oliver spent another five days on the neurosurgery floor, then moved to Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children, where he spent three days preparing to transition back home.
Today, Oliver is home, recovering, running around, and talking up a storm. He’s still undergoing physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. The fall left him with a visual field deficit - he can only see the right side of what’s in front of him. When colouring, he only colours half the page. When eating, he’ll eat half the plate and his parents will spin it around for him to finish the other side.
“A simple $3.99 window lock could have kept this from happening,” says Mike. “I know that not all stories such as ours have such happy endings. I feel like my family has been given a second chance. Please take the time to walk around your house regularly and check that your windows and balconies are child-safe.”
BC Children’s trauma medical director Dr. Genevieve Ernst says window screens are a major issue because they appear to be a barrier for children, but most push out easily.
“Screens are really meant to keep bugs out, not keep children in,” she said. “When children fall from windows or balconies, they can sustain serious head injuries and fractures to shoulders and upper arms.”
Here are some window and balcony safety tips to remember as the weather warms up this summer (and all year around):
- Don’t leave children unattended on balconies or decks.
- Move furniture and planters – or anything that can be climbed on – away from windows, balcony railings and balcony door handles. Lock balcony doors.
- Install window guards on windows above the ground level. Fasten windows so that they cannot open more than 10 centimetres wide. Just make sure there’s a safety release in case of fire.
- Talk to your children about the dangers of opening or playing near windows, particularly on upper floors of the home or in a high-rise dwelling.
- If a child has fallen over five feet from a window or balcony and has lost consciousness or is vomiting, this could be the result of a head injury. Call 911 immediately and get them assessed by a health-care provider. Most head injuries require urgent medical attention and the Emergency Department is a good first step to seek treatment.