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Dads' New Device May Be the Answer to Kids Dying in Hot Cars

Photograph by Twenty20

In March of 2017, a 21-year-old woman arrived at work at Best Friends for Kidz, a learning center in Florida, at 9 a.m. When she went out for a break at 2:30 p.m., she realized she had left her 2-year-old half-brother in the SUV for more than five hours in 90-degree weather.

She rushed the toddler, Jacob Manchego, to a nearby dialysis center hoping they could give him medical aid. Fire rescue personnel later took him to the hospital, where he died.

Jacob's story is one of nearly 20 heatstroke tragedies caused by children being left in vehicles already this year. There were 39 known cases in the U.S. in 2016. There have been 107 deaths of minors in Texas alone from 1998 to 2016 and 77 deaths in Florida in the same period.

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"Honestly, after I heard the story, I had trouble sleeping," Fadi Shamma told ABC news. "It can happen to anyone at any time. All it takes is less than five minutes for something dangerous to happen."

Shamma and his neighbor, Jim Friedman, are both dads who are trying to change these numbers. The Florida dads, one with a medical background and the other an engineer, hope that with their device, even one tragedy can be prevented.

Sense a Life includes a CD-size foam disc that you put under your child and a cell phone-size Bluetooth sensor that you put under the driver's seat. There's no wiring and the two-part device can be installed in under 30 seconds. The device will alert you multiple times. Once you hop off the seat, an audible alarm goes off to let you know your child is in the car. If you close the door, you'll also get a mobile alert. And if you still don't get your child within a minute, it will send a mobile alert to an emergency contact that you already designated.

You can pre-order the system for $99. The dads are hoping to mass produce Sense a Life at an affordable price and to partner with car seat manufacturers to have the technology built into all car seats. Shamma and Friedman are also working with KidsAndCars.org to get a federal law passed that would mandate similar devices to be built into all new cars.

Similar ways to prevent car seat deaths aren't unheard of. In 2014, a high school senior, Alissa Chavez, invented a small padded device that monitors the temperature of your child's car seat through the day. If the car seat is overheated and the device senses the child is still in it, parents will get an impossible-to-miss alert both on their app and on a keychain that comes with the device. Her device is available for pre-order at $79.99.

Other less expensive ideas include the "shoe trick," where you leave your left shoe, purse or something you habitually never leave the car without, in the backseat with your child. Or you can leave a stuffed animal in the front, as a reminder to always look back and check if your child is in the backseat.

"The problem is that everyone thinks 'Oh, it will never happen to me!' so they don't buy the gadget or do the shoe thing," comments a Redditor on a trending thread about the Sense a Life.

"The reason for the 'it could never happen to me' is because the thought of it is so unbearable, the thought that you could do something like that, that our brains have an easier time labeling the people it does happen to as 'others' or 'monsters,'" another commenter responds.

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The hard truth is, tragedies like this could happen to any of us. An old but still heartbreaking article published in 2009 in the Washington Post asks, what kind of person forgets a baby?

"The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist."

It's a sobering lesson. But hopefully with more devices and tricks to solve this problem, grave mistakes can be prevented.

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