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Safety First

Photo of Paige Colburn-Hargis and son Alex

Paige Colburn-Hargis (pictured right) leads Safe San Diego and shares the story of her son Alex (pictured left) with the community.

Rady Children’s doesn’t just treat injuries; it works to prevent them

When you think about what happens in a children’s hospital, treating injuries is probably one of the first things that comes to mind. But at Rady Children’s, specialized teams and task forces work behind the scenes to prevent these injuries from happening in the first place.

Since 1992, Rady Children’s has led Safe Kids San Diego, the local chapter of Safe Kids Worldwide. The Hospital has assembled a coalition of childhood injury prevention advocates, concerned parents, representatives of public safety agencies and members of community organizations who are all committed to the same cause—protecting San Diego’s kids. The group meets six times throughout the year to discuss types of injuries that are prevalent in our region and those that are on the rise, plan awareness and education campaigns to help highlight the issues, share resources and plan community events to bring solutions to parents and caregivers. The group has taken on such topics as child passenger safety, home safety, sports injury prevention and pedestrian safety, and they recently hosted a resource fair in Southeast San Diego.

“Safe Kids San Diego is a grassroots, community-led program,” says Lorrie Lynn, Rady Children’s injury prevention program manager and coordinator for Safe Kids San Diego. Along with updates on trends, advocacy and media, Safe Kids provides a connection for parent advocates who are concerned about preventing childhood injuries because of their lived experiences with a child’s injury.

A Mom’s Mission

Safe Kids San Diego is led on a volunteer basis by Paige Colburn-Hargis, who works to educate the local community about common childhood injuries and how to prevent them and collaborates with colleagues at the national level to swap ideas and translate their best practices for a San Diego audience. She also has a personal connection to the cause. “One of the best pathways to healing is sharing your stories,” she says. “You pour that pain into purpose. It’s been helpful for me to have something good come out of something that was so traumatic.”

On September 19, 2013, Paige’s 13-year-old son, Alex, was severely injured in a fall from a skateboard. Despite having a helmet readily available to him near his skateboard, he chose to go without, or simply forgot. In a split second, his life changed forever. Alex was found unconscious on the ground with a fractured skull, seizing, after falling off his skateboard. The family called 911 and Alex was rushed to Rady Children’s.

“It was so surreal,” Paige says. “I was sitting outside the room and the surgeon came out and said, ‘Alex has suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and we need to place him in a medically induced coma to relieve the pressure on his brain.’” Alex remained in the coma for 24 days. He then spent an additional 37 days in the Hospital’s rehabilitation unit relearning how to walk, talk, eat—everything.

Even after her son was released from the Hospital, Alex still required intensive outpatient therapies and full-time supervision as he continued his recovery at home. While working to bring her son back to health, Paige and her family began another mission: to raise awareness about the importance of always wearing a helmet whenever riding any sort of wheels. It was during this time that Paige’s husband, David, reached out to the director of Rady Children’s Center for Healthier Communities, Mary Beth Moran, to ask what their family could do to prevent this from happening to another child.

That led to Paige join Safe Kids as a parent advocate. Her passion and commitment were evident and she was quickly voted president of Safe Kids San Diego. Utilizing Moran’s public health expertise, they teamed up to create a campaign to take on the prevalent anti-helmet culture in action sports. Partnering with industry experts and well-known skateboarding professionals, they created the My Grey Matterz campaign. (You can visit their website at www. mygreymatterz.org to learn more.)

In 2016, Paige was hired to build an Injury Prevention Program at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla. “I truly love working in this field,” she says. “The people are so collaborative and generous. They are a passionate group of people that truly want to make a difference to decrease the burden of unintentional injury.”

Paige’s positions go hand-in-hand. One of the most critical things in injury prevention, she says, especially when working with the pediatric population, is raising awareness and spreading a cohesive message across the board. At Rady Children’s she focuses on laying the groundwork about injury prevention while kids are still young. At Scripps, she takes on teen and adult safety issues like safe driving and preventing older adult falls.

Through tragedy, Paige found her calling: to create the connections and the synergy it takes to truly make a difference. She says: “The pain caused by unintentional injuries, both physical and emotional, are not just isolated to the person who sustained the injury. Like a pebble thrown into a pond, the effects of trauma ripple out, further and further. Our families are affected; our communities are affected.”

As Alex healed, he also took on an advocacy role, speaking at area schools, creating a helmet safety video for YouTube, and launching a foundation to provide helmets for those who can’t afford them. He’s now 21 and is a senior at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. He will graduate this May, with a degree in biology and a minor in business entrepreneurship; he plans to pursue a career in the biomedical field.

Kids Protecting Kids

Kenan was invited to speak about her drug disposal envelopes on Fox 5 San Diego.

It’s not just grown-ups helping keep kids safe. A fateful trip to the dentist’s office inspired high school senior Kenan Thomas to get involved in injury prevention. “I got my wisdom teeth removed last summer and I was prescribed hydrocodone,” she says. “I took only a few, then I had the rest of the pill container. I realized that I have all these extra medicines from various other surgeries in my life—my mom still has her leftover painkillers from when she had a C-section with my brother. It’s a big problem, because people don’t know what to do with their leftover medication and just keep it in their home. When you leave it in your medicine cabinet, it’s accessible to anyone who comes into your home.”

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, nine in 10 people addicted to drugs began using them before age 18. Kenan would soon be working on a project for her Gold Award, the most prestigious award in Girl Scouts, which is earned by tackling a real-world problem. She saw it as an opportunity to take action to help prevent kids and teens from having access to pills they would be able to abuse or sell. Kenan reached out to the nonprofit Safe Homes Coalition, which provides prepaid, preaddressed envelopes that people can use to mail their unwanted prescriptions to a drug disposal facility to be destroyed.

The next step was to make the envelopes accessible via medical facilities—especially those that cater to kids and teens—and persuade officials to make prescription safety education a part of the health care experience. One of her first stops was the surgeon who’d removed her wisdom teeth. She asked that doctor to consider talking to his patients about safe prescription disposal and give them the envelopes. According to the Safe Homes Coalition, he has since given out more than 200. She also cold-called Rady Children’s to urge them to do the same. She was put in touch with Safe Kids San Diego, then with Lorrie Lynn, who helped her distribute envelopes throughout the Hospital. “This young woman approached us with this well thought out initiative—of course we wanted to support her,” Lynn says.

Now, when patients in certain departments are prescribed a large amount of medication, they get one of the envelopes and instructions to mail it in with any remainder; take it to one of several drop boxes located in pharmacies, medical centers and law enforcement facilities around the county; or drop it off at a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day event in April and October. To date, Kenan has donated more than 500 envelopes to Rady Children’s.

“For me, it’s really special being able to impact the people, especially in my age group,” she says. “Just knowing that people will have these options, knowing that I could save even one life or prevent addiction for just one person, makes the whole project worth it.”

Getting Ahead of the Problem

Though Safe Kids San Diego has made some major strides in injury prevention, there’s always more work to be done. To identify areas that need special attention, the group puts together a report every three years with data from trauma program managers, registrars, research departments, the county’s health and human services agency and its medical examiner’s office on unintentional deaths and injuries in San Diego County. They look for what’s on the rise, determine where it makes sense to focus their attention and then decide what steps should be taken to combat the issue.

“We all work collaboratively to identify these trends,” says Paige Colburn-Hargis. “If there’s an evidence-based program out there that’s already been researched, the ideal thing is to take that program and use it. If something like that hasn’t been created, you work on creating the program, set it up so you can utilize data to evaluate whether or not it’s having an impact on the reduction of injuries.”

They’re also constantly looking at what’s being done in other areas of the country so they can bring that information back and build upon it. Paige says Safe Kids San Diego and other agencies tend to create tool kits they can share so others can hit the ground running.

For instance, one of the biggest threats to young people in recent years is drowning. Safe Kids San Diego has launched a water safety campaign, in conjunction with various local and national campaigns, that involves giving adults a “Water Watcher” tag they can use to designate someone to keep an eye on the pool or ocean while children are swimming.

“When that person wears that tag, they’re in charge of watching all the kids,” Lynn says. “Then when that person needs a break, they give that card to somebody else and they’re the watcher, so there’s always somebody with eyes on the kids. If you go to a party, there’s always kids in the pool. This makes somebody pay attention.”

The secret to any campaign’s success, Paige says, is consistency in messaging at all levels. She points to the early weeks of the pandemic and the initial confusion about mask wearing as an example of what not to do. “There’s a lot of movement now to make sure we’re all saying the same thing in the same way so that people hear it and they’re not confused by it.”

Another essential component is awareness. You can’t take steps to prevent something that you’re not aware can happen. Safe Kids San Diego efforts have made strides for many causes: They called attention to injury prevention in a Shining a Green Light for Safety initiative by illuminating various buildings in green. They encouraged County Supervisor Jim Desmond to proclaim November 18 Special Injury Prevention Day, and they established a refresher course for local nurses and other hospital personnel about safe sleep practices for babies (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 3,500 sleep-related infant deaths in the US per year). The coalition is also working to prevent window falls, allterrain vehicle crashes, traumatic brain injury and more.

“My son is doing really well. He has made a miraculous recovery,” Paige says. “Not everyone recovers. That’s why I’m so passionate about this cause. I know that things can change in a blink of an eye.”
Published in Healthy Kids Magazine, Winter 2022