Photo provided by Holly Wagner; Cameron Wagner
Since Yahoo Parenting launched on Oct. 23, the editors and writers have posted nearly 600 stories on the site. They chose this article – originally published on Dec. 2 – as a highlight of the pieces that offer trusted advice, inspire provocative conversations, and hopefully add a little fun to your life, every day.
Life can change in a split second. Nobody knows that better than Louisiana mother Holly Wagner, whose 11-month-old son Cameron died in a car crash because he was not properly fastened in his car seat. Now, Wagner wants to share her story so other parents don’t experience the same tragedy.
According to updated guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing seat until they are at least 2 years old or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat’s manufacturer. Wagner wasn’t aware of that, so Cameron’s car seat faced the front. A few weeks before the fatal crash, Wagner posted a photo to Facebook, below, of her son sitting in his car seat.
Photo provided by Holly Wagner
“No one told me I was doing it wrong,” Wagner, 23, a former nursing assistant, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Even when I was discharged from the hospital after Cameron was born, the nurses couldn’t assist with the car seat for liability issues. So I just did what I thought was correct, what my parents did when I was growing up.” Wagner had, in fact, kept Cameron facing the rear until he turned 11 months old, but three weeks before the accident, she turned the seat around. “I wanted to keep an eye on him,” she says.
On April 27, 2013, Wagner got a call on her way home from work. It was a police officer who said that while driving her car, Wagner’s then-boyfriend and her two young sons were involved in a car accident on their way home from buying kites. Wagner’s boyfriend suffered head trauma and a broken leg; her three-year-old son Connor broke his arm and had internal bruising, however, he would survive. But Cameron had suffered “severe injuries.” Wagner rushed to the emergency room where a specialist told her, “Your baby is not in good shape. He may not be here much longer.”
During the crash, Cameron’s little body was ejected from the car and he was found in a ditch. “I asked, ‘Is he alive?’” says Wagner. “The surgeon said, ‘Technically yes, but I can’t make any promises.’” Cameron went right into surgery to mend his punctured lungs and relieve his brain swelling, which required doctors to remove a portion of his skull. However, his injuries were so severe, Wagner was told that if Cameron did survive, he wouldn’t be the same little boy. “I was allowed to visit him but I didn’t recognize him at all,” says Wagner. Cameron spent two weeks in the hospital and during that time, he turned 1 year old. Finally Wagner was given a terrible choice: “Since his brain wasn’t absorbing any nutrients from his feeding tube, he was starving to death,” she says. “I could either let him pass on his own or remove him from life support.” She eventually made the agonizing decision to remove him from life support on May 12, one day after Mother’s Day.
Wagner’s ex-boyfriend remembers nothing from that fatal day, having undergone brain surgery. But police say he ran a stop sign driving at 55 miles per hour and hit another car, which caused Wagner’s car to flip several times. “He may have also been texting, I am not sure,” says Wagner. Also: Cameron was only fastened by the arm straps — her ex-boyfriend did not buckle him in at the waist.
“We estimate that 73 percent of parents install their car seats incorrectly,” Kate Carr, CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization that aims to prevent child injuries, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Common mistakes range from using expired car seats — they actually expire — and not fastening the straps tightly enough.” Here are four tips to ensure your kid has a safe ride:
Check your car seat’s expiration date: “Car seats are a piece of machinery and parts like the straps can deteriorate over time,” says Carr. “The average car seat lasts five to seven years, however check the expiration date on the bottom of the seat where it should be clearly labeled.”
Give the ‘pinch and inch’ test: If you can wiggle the car seat one inch in either direction, it’s not secured correctly in its base. Likewise, if you can pinch the straps and pull them even a little bit loose, tighten them.
Position the car seat specific to your car: Should your child sit behind the driver or the passenger — or in the middle of the seat row? That depends on what type of car you drive. Check your car manual for instructions.
Got a used carseat? Talk to its previous owner: If you’re using a hand-me-down, learn its full crash history by asking the seller. Once a car seat has been in a crash, it needs to be replaced.
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