Dr. Scott Heithoff discusses playground safety with the Times Herald

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Playground superheroes need to do their own stunts, but don't have to get hurt

Written by Ryan Fitzmaurice Times Herald

Aug. 4, 2013

With parents' careful observation of play areas and age-appropriate playground equipment, the number of children injured during play can be reduced. / Times Herald

Four-year-old Johnny Cook’s favorite place on the playground is the monkey bars.

His mother doesn’t share his preference.

Laura Cook frequents the Marysville City Park often with her two children, Johnny and 3-year-old Izabella, but certain spots on the playground set make her nervous.

“I get scared about the (loop ladder) or the monkey bars,” Cook said. “Just one slip, they could fall off and have the possibility of being paralyzed.”

Cook said she sometimes wishes she could pad the entire playground with thick foam so falling couldn’t hurt.

In 2012, more than 600,000 children were injured at playgrounds, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Why Cook’s palms get sweaty:

  • Monkey bars or other climbing structures: Involved in about 210,000 children’s injuries.
  • Swing sets: More than 151,000 kids hurt.
  • Slides: More than 125,000.
  • Seewaws and teeterboards: More than 10,000.
  • Other equipment: About 56,000.

Scott Heithoff, an orthopedic surgeon at the Orthopedic Associates of Port Huron, said he sees playground injuries frequently. “It’s not rare, over the summer, over a week’s period, we’ll see one or two kids who’ll need surgery because of playground incidents,” Heithoff said.

Heithoff said many of these incidents take place when children fall from heights onto a hard surface.

“We see quite a few playground injuries, kids falling from a height of some sort, off of a swing, board, up in a playscape,” Heithoff said. “A frequent way they get injuries is falling onto the ground, or another part of the playscape. We have also seen several cases where kids fall into outstretched arms and land the wrong way.”

Heithoff said injuries commonly are just scrapes and bruises, but they can be more severe. He has seen serious fractures of the elbow, forearm and wrist from playground injuries.

“The best thing to do is keep an eye on them,” Heithoff said. “Kids who are unsupervised are who we see getting injured most often. Parents who pay attention can keep the kids from being in situations where they may fall.”

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons offer several safety tips for parents and caregivers when watching their children on the playground.

They include checking that there’s enough space for kids to easily get off and away from slides, carousels or other equipment where other kids might be following, staying away from playgrounds that have concrete, asphalt, hard-packed dirt or grass surfaces and removing any necklaces and jewelry on children that could catch on playground equipment and cause injury.

Nichole Angerbrandt, a Marysville resident, said dangers of the playground can also provide children with important learning experiences. It’s important not to let kids get too sheltered, she said.

“Yes, I would like (playgrounds) to be 100 percent childproof. But then again, if everything is childproof, how are they going to learn their limits and boundaries, and learn what they can and can’t do?” Angerbrandt said.

“Because if everything was safe, it would be like living in a bubble, and how are you supposed to learn what not to do in a bubble?”

Still Angerbrandt said she has saved her 4-year-old son, Boston, from danger in the park before.

“Usually you’re sitting here and watching them and you know when they’re at the risky spots. When you see anything you tell them to get off or you get over there,” Angerbrandt said. “I’ve caught my son when he fell off the play set. I caught him before he could fall.”