07/31/2014 11:41 am ET Updated Sep 30, 2014

A Day Gone Wrong: How Tragedies From Forgetting Children in Cars Can Happen to Anyone

It wasn't just a routine day for Reggie McKinnon. On March 8, 2010, Reggie, a loving father of three beautiful daughters, left work mid-day to take his 17-month-old daughter, Payton Lyn, to the doctor to have her ears checked following a recent surgery. After the appointment, Reggie hurried back to work. The temperature was in the 70s.

At the end of the work day, Reggie opened his SUV and discovered Payton was still in her car seat. She had died of heatstroke. Reggie had forgotten to take her back to day care.

"It's a horror I have to live with every day for the rest of my life," said Reggie at a recent press conference in Washington, D.C.

I'm sure at this point you may be asking yourself, "How could any parent forget their own child?"

It happens more than you might think. In fact, experts will tell you this can happen to anybody. Our busy lifestyles create enough stress to trigger mental "lapses," which can bury a thought and cause your brain to go on autopilot. The lapses can affect something as simple as misplacing your keys or something as crucial as forgetting your baby.

Since 1998, at least 624 children across the United States have died from heatstroke. Last year, tragically 44 children died from heatstroke in vehicles. So far this year, there have been 19 deaths. That's 19 families devastated. And every one of these tragedies is preventable.

Today is National Heatstroke Prevention Day. Safe Kids is partnering with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and committed supporters, including the General Motors Foundation and OnStar, to encourage everyone to spread the word about the dangers of leaving children unattended in cars.

Many people are shocked to learn how hot the inside of a car can actually get. The temperature inside of a car can rise 19 degrees in 10 minutes. You can only imagine what happens when the temperature outside is 100 degrees or more, as it has been in many places around the country this summer. And cracking the window doesn't help.

We want parents, caregivers and bystanders to join in our effort to eliminate heatstroke deaths by remembering to ACT.

  • A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you're not in it so kids don't get in on their own.
  • C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child, such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you're not following your normal routine.
  • T: Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations, and they'd much rather respond to a false alarm than a fatality.

Reggie will tell you that before his tragic day, he had heard about the dangers of heatstroke but never thought it could happen to him. Now, he dedicates his life to raising awareness so all parents and caregivers understand it can happen to anyone. "I made a promise to my sweet Payton that I would do everything I could to prevent this horror from ever happening to another child," said Reggie.

Let's help Reggie keep his promise. Tweet a message about the importance of never leaving a child alone in car. Together we can make sure we don't lose another child to heatstroke.

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