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Orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Gaffney found that nearly one in four kids who had a fractured shinbone was injured when riding a slide on the lap of an adult or older sibling.
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msnbc.com contributor
updated 9/17/2009 8:28:14 AM ET 2009-09-17T12:28:14

When Amy Canterella’s toddler begged to ride the big slide at the playground, the Long Island mom thought the safest bet would be to ride down with her daughter on her lap. But as they were swooshing down the slide, her daughter’s giggles gave way to a scary shriek. Afterwards, Canterella’s little girl wouldn’t put any weight on her right leg.

At the hospital later, Canterella learned that her daughter, then 18 months old, had broken her shinbone when her foot got wedged up against the side of the slide. “I was horrified,” says the 33-year-old nutritionist. “I thought I was making her safer. I’d never heard this sort of thing could happen.”

As it turns out, Canterella’s experience isn’t that uncommon. After treating a spate of broken shinbones in toddlers who’d been riding on slides, Dr. John Gaffney decided to look for the cause. Gaffney, a pediatric orthopedist at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., and a clinical professor at State University of New York Stony Brook, dug out all the medical records for kids he’d treated with fractured shinbones over the preceding 11 months.

Out of the 58 fractures in kids under the age of 18, he found that 13 were sustained on slides. And every one of those injuries occurred when a toddler was riding on the lap of an adult or an older sibling, Gaffney reported this month in a study published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics.

“The mothers and fathers I spoke with were extremely frustrated to hear this was a possibility,” Gaffney says. “I realized then that this was something nobody knew about and all these parents wished they had known. So I decided to put a little science behind what I thought was happening.”

Greater momentum, harder to stop
After researching the issue, Gaffney become a man with a mission. He concluded that parents shouldn’t be riding on slides with their toddlers and he wants the world to know about it.

“If a toddler is riding by himself and gets his leg stuck against the side of the slide, he can stop himself pretty easily,” Gaffney explains. “But with the parent’s weight added in, you’ve got greater velocity and momentum and it’s harder to stop.

Gaffney advises: “If the child can’t use the slide independently, then the parent should divert him to something more appropriate for his age.”

The new study shows that parents should exercise caution when thinking about riding on a slide with a toddler on their laps, says Dr. Barbara Gaines, director of trauma and injury prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“But I’m not an all or nothing kind of person, so I’m not sure I’d say across the board that parents shouldn’t ride on slides with their children,” she adds. “Parents do need to be aware that there are risks. And I think it’s reasonable to say that they shouldn’t take the steepest slide on the playground and that they might consider other activities that would be fun for the parent and child to share.”

Gaffney wrote his paper as a way of spreading the word about the dangers of riding a slide with a toddler. Joan Mescall, another Long Island mom, has a more direct and individualized approach.

Any time she sees a mom at the park starting to mount the slide with a toddler, she walks over and tells her son’s story.

Mescall’s toddler fractured his shinbone after going down the slide on his big brother's lap.

“I was worried my son would fall off the slide if he rode by himself," she said. "So I had my 9-year-old ride down with him. It’s ironic — you think you’re going to protect them and you end up hurting them.”

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