A powerful, personal story about heat stroke and how easily it can happen so unintentionally and so tragically.
Guest post by Jenny Stanley
We were a typical all-American family. Mom, Dad, two sons, a daughter and two miniature dachshunds living in the suburbs. Dad worked for a company where he had been employed for 20 years. Mom was a stay-at-home Mom. She worked bake sales, volunteered as a baseball team Mom and served as a personal taxi for the three kids. The boys loved to participate in and watch sports. ANY sport ….. Baseball.. Lacrosse.. Soccer.. and like all good ‘ole Southern boys, they LOVED football. The girl loved dance, especially hip hop.
KidsAndCars.org (KAC) is a nonprofit child safety organization that has been pioneering a prevention movement since 1996 by promoting the highest level of awareness among parents, caregivers, legislators and the public at-large about the dangers inherent to children when in or around motor vehicles. KAC works to prevent these sudden and tragic events through data collection, education and public awareness, policy change, product redesign and survivor advocacy.
Our quiet, suburban neighborhood in Evans, Ga., was just like the one I’d grown up in—sidewalk chalk and bikes strewn everywhere, and you never knew how many extra kids you’d have at your dinner table at night.
That WAS my life until August 22, 2010. That day became the worst day of my life. My precious 6 year old daughter, Sydney, passed away due to heat stroke.
A typical day
The day started as a typical Sunday. We all went to church. At church, Sydney started a craft in Sunday school but she was unable to finish it. When I picked her up, she asked if she could bring the craft home to complete. Of course I told her she could bring the craft home.
After lunch, Logan, my oldest child, and I left to run errands. Mason, my middle child, and Mike, my husband, stayed at home and Sydney went next door to play. A normal Sunday afternoon……. Until…. Halfway through our shopping trip, I called home to ask Mason to bring his sister home from next door. But he didn’t find her there. When he called to tell me that news, my first thought was, “She’s in so much trouble! She knows to ask for permission before heading to a different house!”
I provided Mason a list of homes where she was allowed to play. When Mason called back, my grocery cart was nearly full. “She’s not at any of those houses.”
I left the cart where it was and rushed home with a tingling feeling of panic in my chest.
The Worst Day
On the way, I got another phone call. It was Mason calling from a neighbor’s cell phone. I couldn’t make out anything he said on the other end and the phone went dead. I called the number back, identified myself and asked if anyone had called me. Our neighbor answered the call and said Mason had called and handed him the phone. Again, I could not make out any words except “Mom, we found her. She’s very blue.”
Sydney had gotten into our SUV, which was parked in our driveway, and been overtaken by the heat stroke in the backseat. That’s where they found her, unresponsive and blue.
I arrived home and ran into our house to a scene of EMTs working on my daughter. Words cannot begin to express my feelings. I do remember pleading with the paramedics to not stop trying to revive her. The head EMT told me that they were taking her to the hospital…. A glimpse of hope….. Only to be destroyed a couple of minutes later by the words “We have done all we can do. There is nothing else to try.”
She was in the ambulance and Mike and I asked if we could see her. We climbed into the rear of the ambulance to tell our angel goodbye. The pain was unimaginable. There is absolutely no way for me to convey in words my feelings. After a few minutes I saw the boys outside the ambulance. I told Mike, “we have two boys who need us now more than ever.” We got out of the ambulance to care for the boys.
The What Ifs
We’d later piece together what likely happened. Sydney went next door to play. When no one was there to play, she headed home. Remembering the craft she’d left in the car after church, she decided to retrieve it. She didn’t know I had already brought the craft inside our house. We don’t know how long she was in the car; but it was long enough.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve asked myself a series of “what ifs?” There are so many variables that, if changed only slightly, could have made it possible for Sydney to be celebrating her 11th birthday this year. Among the most recurring question is, “What if the car door had been locked?”
The danger of children in hot cars and experience heat stroke has made lots of headlines in recent years. Every year, there seems to be a horrific reminder of why it’s never okay—even for a minute—to leave a child in a car.
But that’s not our story. We did not leave Sydney in the car. We had never thought of what would happen if one of our children entered a car unsupervised.
Turning What Ifs into Educating
In our neighborhood, kids love to play hide and seek. When trees and patios are taken, what better place to hide than the backseat of a car?
If you are a parent, teach your children vehicles are never to be used as a play area. And even if you don’t have kids, know your unlocked car could be tempting to a curious child.
We miss our Sydney every minute of every day. Somewhere along our grief journey, I stopped questioning those “what ifs?” to instead focus on using our nightmare to educate other parents.
So, I beg you, especially as the temperatures rise, recognize your car could become a weapon. Never leave your car unlocked!!
Educate the children in your life, lock your car doors and, no matter how old your child is, never assume.
Jenny Stanley was born in Columbus, GA. She is married to Mike Stanley and has three children, Logan, Mason & Sydney. Since Sydney’s death, Jenny has become an proponent of the education of individuals to prevent heat stroke in cars. She works with various non-profit organizations such as Kidsandcars.org.
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We originally published this post in May 2015. Since then Jenny’s son has started speaking about his side of the story but has not written his story. This is an event that is emotionally traumatic for the whole family.