Sunday, August 2, 2015

What does it take to be a safety superhero?

Did you ever wonder what it was like to be a superhero?  Or what it's like to have a superpower?

Did you ever wonder what it takes to be a superhero?  Are they born that way?  Do they choose to be a hero?  Does someone else bestow the title on them based on merit of some kind?  

I have just had the honor of attending and presenting at the Safe Kids Worldwide Injury Prevention Conference, otherwise known as PREVCON, at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center in Washington, DC.  Their theme is “Where safety heroes meet.”  All of their marketing materials had a comic book feel to them with the theme of safety hero carried throughout the conference. 

I’ve been familiar with Safe Kids for some time.  I was unaware of how the organization really worked and how far reaching their programs and initiatives are, how involved they are, and just how passionate their members are about preventing childhood injury and death.   These people eat, sleep, breathe and work tirelessly to keep YOUR kids and grandkids safer.  I spent the past 3 days with my kind of “people.”  There were 500 safety geeks, all enthusiastically sharing ideas, experiences, and brainstorming ways to keep kids safer. They came quite literally from all over the world to do so!

First, you should know, that preventable accidents are the #1 cause of injury and death to children in the U.S. and around the world.  Over a million children every year die from a preventable accident worldwide. This is why we are all so passionate about education and prevention.  I heard over and over and over how everyone will work tirelessly until those numbers all reach zero. 

I thought you might like to know what happens when safety geeks gather, so here's a sneak peek. 

I arrived on Wednesday.  When I picked up my registration packet, there was a Safe Kids reusable bag with all sorts of literature and swag in it from Safe Kids and their sponsors and partners.  All child safety related, of course.  I checked into my room and went through my swag.  When I pulled out the Sanus TV strap, given to every registrant, I smiled and tears filled my eyes.  THANK YOU SANUS!  Best.  Swag.  Ever.  You can bet I told them so when I saw them in the exhibit hall the next day! 

The next thing I did, which I do in every hotel, is check to see if the dresser or TV is secured.  They were not.  Disappointing but not surprising. The flat screen had a wide base, but I was able to pretty easily cause it to tip forward.  We have a lot of work to do…

At 3 pm, I met with a representative from Nationwide Insurance, whom I have partnered with on their Make Safe Happen campaign.  We talked about the campaign, safety, and ideas for the future.  I also had the chance to talk with the other marketing reps in the exhibit hall.   All who enthusiastically thanked me for my willingness to share my story and participate in their program.  We all said good-bye with a hug.   

That evening, we were bused to Capitol Hill for a reception at a U. S. House of Representatives building in the Canon Caucus Room.   There, safety heroes had the opportunity not only to connect and network with each other, but to mingle with some of our U.S. House and Senate members and their staff.  Safe Kids works hard to legislate changes in laws to keep kids safer.   

Two Champion in Child Safety awards were given.  One was given to Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, for his work and support of legislation to prevent SIDS as well as his work on other consumer safety issues.  The other award was given to the First Lady of Georgia, Sandra Deal, for her work on heat stroke prevention and other child safety issues.  I had the opportunity to meet her before her award was presented.  We had a nice chat in the buffet line during which she asked about Meghan’s Hope (my name tag had the name of your organization and where you were from).  I told her the story and what I did to raise awareness.  During her acceptance speech, she happened to mention she talked to someone here who lost her daughter to a furniture tip-over and how these preventable accidents should not be happening.  I did not tear up telling her my story, but I did hearing her mention it.  It’s odd how that happens.  Grief is funny that way.

Thursday, the conference began.  It was two full days of information packed plenaries and breakout sessions, poster presentations, and fantastic exhibitors with innovative child safety products, with a good dose of fun and socialization and networking built in. 

From 7 am to 5:30 pm both days, I attended sessions, visited the exhibit hall, networked, and made amazing connections, including with SANUS, CEA, Dorel (Safety 1st), and JPMA as well as the Massachusetts Safe Kids Coalition leader.  I learned so much that I didn’t know, and had the opportunity to educate others, too.   Topics that day covered a wide variety of safety subjects including pedestrian safety, sports safety, bike and ATV safety, car seat safety,  product and toy safety, fundraising, planning safety events, safe sleep, advocacy, and research, and that was just the morning! 

The lunch plenary was a conversation with Dana Points, Editor in Chief of Parents Magazine and she provided amazing insights to our target audience, which is of course, parents of young children.  The afternoon sessions included keeping kids safe in and around cars, communication resources, fire and burn safety, impacts of legal marijuana, forming corporate partnerships, as well as another plenary on sports safety. 

That evening was unscheduled, so I took some time to walk around the harbor and sit and quietly watch the sun set as the sky changed colors.  I even saw a few heart clouds!

Friday brought another amazing  but long and information packed day.  The morning plenary was a conversation with National Leaders including the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Director of Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC, and The Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.   It was an insightful glimpse into the work that our government agencies do and the challenges they face in their role in keeping kids safer. 

I waited after that session to have a chance to speak to the Chair of the CPSC.  The Communications Director was also there, who I have corresponded with in the past, and as I began to introduce myself to him, he made it clear he already knew who I was, and greeted me with a hug, as did the Chairman when he was free.  I was touched they not only recognized who I was, but took the time to talk with me and brainstorm for a few minutes about what else we could do, together, to make furniture safer for kids.   They thanked me for my courage and willingness to share my story in the way I do.  ( I have more to say later on the topic of courage)

Immediately following, there was a press conference outside on the dangers of leaving kids in hot cars.  It was National Heatstroke Awareness Day.  I attended the press conference where several speakers including Safe Kids CEO and President Kate Carr and the NHTSA Administrator, addressed the issue of kids being accidentally left in cars and succumbing to heatstroke and how it can be prevented.  

A dad who lost his daughter to heat stroke when he was out of his routine and forgot to drop her off at daycare after a doctor’s appointment shared his story.  Then, they did a re-enactment of a rescue of a child from a hot car by playing an actual 911 call from a bystander at a shopping center and having the fire and EMS actually respond and demonstrate how they get a child out of the car and whisk them away to the hospital.  They did not actually break the car window (a new car was provided by a dealership for the demo) but made it clear if the doors are locked, they break a window to gain access as fast as possible.  All I could think of while watching it, was how huge of a trigger that must have been for that father, and I sure as heck hope someone warned him it was going to happen!  I wanted to talk to him afterwards, but he was mobbed by the media. 

The rest of the day included sessions on booster seat safety, medication safety, sports policy, new ideas for injury prevention, drowning prevention, road safety, home visits and home safety, social media, safety for kids with special needs, and innovative injury prevention and partnerships (this was the session I presented at).

For the session I presented at, I was one of 4 speakers.  I only had about 15 minutes, so I briefly educated the attendees about the way I teach, by presenting to them in the same way.  Which is with compassion, from the heart, with raw emotion, a dose of humor, and a harsh dose of reality. Honestly, it's the only way I know how.  It's just my personality!  I told Meghan’s story, I explained how I teach, what I teach, and what the challenges are, including the creative ways I’ve discovered to engage parents and get them to take action to prevent tip-overs.  I explained the benefit of partnerships and how hard it is to do all of this as a grassroots one woman organization.  I asked for their help, and many offered support.

I did not get through all my slides, nor did I expect to (that was part of the humor), but they will have them for reference.  I was touched that when I showed her photo, there was a collective “awwww” from the audience (she was awfully cute!), and when I showed her dresser, a few audible gasps.  The energy in the room was palpable in how it shifted just in the first two slides.  They were engaged.  They laughed with me.  They almost cried when I almost cried.  They applauded enthusiastically when I finished.  I received many questions at the end, more about how I do it, tips for encouraging other families to share their stories, and a few about the grief process and how they can help other parents in similar situations.  Others simply approached me to thank me, after the presentation and throughout the afternoon as they saw me at the other sessions.  I guess it went okay...

From there it was the Safe Kids Awards luncheon, where I sat by invitation, with the moderator of my session and the Assistant Director of the Children’s Safety Network.  We had a lovely conversation and she provided some great ideas and resources for me.

The afternoon sessions included how to launch a campaign, establish a peer to peer program for youth road safety, ways to extend your reach, and working in multilingual communities. 

That evening there was a fun BBQ on the pier event (the hotel is on the Potomac at the National Harbor).  There was great food, dancing, and conversation and Mother Nature provided a lovely sunset once again.  In fact, I sat with a woman from New Orleans and we had an amazing two hour conversation that began about safety but evolved into talking about death and dying in children and in general and how to help parents cope with impending and eventual death of their child, as she works in palliative care in a children’s hospital.  We could have talked all night!  It never ceases to amaze me how the Universe put me next to all the right people at the right time, whether I had something to offer them, they do me, or us to each other.  Absolutely amazing!

Oh, and just so you know, I just happened to look out the window here at the hotel as I am typing, and there was a heart cloud.  Made me cry.  I’ve gotten a lot of love from above in the form of hearts the past few days.  It’s as if Meggie is saying I am in the right place and she approves.  And those words just made me cry harder.  You know, underneath all this, I’m still a bereaved parent…

So, back to what makes a superhero?  Well, I guess I should be more specific.  What makes a safety hero? 

Anyone who has a desire to educate parents about a particular (or many) dangers to kids and who is invested in helping keep kids free from accidental injury and death is a safety hero.  In my eyes, if you share Meggie’s story, you are a safety hero.  You might have saved a life by doing so!  Heroes save lives, right?  They teach others about right and wrong.  They inspire those around them to do the right thing.

I hope I’ve inspired a few folks with Meggie’s story to make their homes safer by securing their furniture and TV’s.

What will your safety hero outfit be?  Mine is a cape and a tiara, of course!