SIKESTON - When there's an accident that incapacitates everyone in the vehicle, rescue personnel can have a difficult time identifying and obtaining vital medical information about children riding in car safety seats, especially when the infants are not related to anyone in the vehicle.
Without the vital information, rescue workers have no way to identify the child or his special medical needs and efforts to identify and contact the child's next of kin may be significantly delayed.
That scenario is what motivated John Peel to get on board a project called W.H.A.L.E, We Have A Little Emergency.
"I have been involved with young people for the past umpteen years," Peel said. "I also have four grandchildren and they are past the child car seat stage now, but nevertheless I thought if we had had something like this when they were in car seats it could have been helpful."
Peel, past president and current member of Missouri Delta Medical Center's Hospital Auxiliary, learned of a program in Seattle, Wash., and contacted them for information.
Created in the early 1990s by a child caregiver in Virginia who wondered what would happen to the children in her care if they were in an automobile accident, W.H.A.L.E. works as an identification program. Each W.H.A.L.E. packet includes four vinyl self-adhesive stickers for the rear side car windows and the sides of the child safety seat, a personalized leaflet and an information label for the parent or guardian to fill in the child's name, date of birth, medical history, emergency contacts and as an option, a recent photo.
To ensure privacy, it is recommended to fasten the label in the self-adhesive holder to the back of the safety seat where it cannot be seen outside the vehicle.
The first program of its kind in the United States, W.H.A.L.E. has been adopted by the Missouri Association of Hospital Auxiliaries and funded by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration. It is now recognized and used by emergency personnel in 34 states.
And if Peel has anything to say about it, the program will be a household name in this area. He was so enthusiastic about the program and determined to have it here, he asked that it become a project of MDMC's hospital auxiliary, permission he was granted without hesitation.
"This is the first W.H.A.L.E. program in Southeast Missouri to get going," noted Peel. "I kept right on after it and finally got my first 500 packets. We started passing them out about three months ago. I got some ladies together, two taking care of passing the packets out in New Madrid County, one lady in Mississippi County and two ladies and myself here in Scott County. The hospital will be the main point of distribution because whenever a baby is born and they go home with their little pouches full of freebies from the hospital, a W.H.A.L.E. packet will be put in with the freebies."
Last week the program received 1,000 more packets.
Peel has received positive response from law enforcement in local and area communities and already has sold the Missouri State Highway Patrol on the idea.
"So many times in severe traffic accidents there are situations where the parents or guardians are either seriously incapacitated as a result of disabling injuries or are fatals and the child in the safety restraint seat has very minor injuries if any," noted Lt. Jim McNiell with the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Troop E.
"Sometimes you get so rattled in these accidents that your decision making and recall is affected. This W.H.A.L.E. program is a way to identify that child and provide law enforcement and emergency personnel with the needed information when the adults can't."
Local and area residents will have an opportunity to learn more about the child safety seat identification program at a kick-off celebration from 9 a.m. to noon Friday in the basement classroom at MDMC.
Various organizations at the event will include health departments, sheriff's departments and emergency personnel from Scott, Mississippi and New Madrid counties, Bootheel Healthy Start, Division of Family Services, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Sikeston, Charleston and East Prairie Public Safety and MDMC.
In addition to learning more about W.H.A.L.E., those attending will receive tips on properly installing a child safety seat in a vehicle.
"We'd like to have a good turnout and we urge parents, grandparents, foster parents.... everyone to come and at least pick up a packet," Peel said. "We want people to take this seriously, not just let the kids play with the stickers. We want them to realize the importance of this program, it's something that could save somebody's life."
Anyone interested but unable to attend the kick-off is invited to find out more about W.H.A.L.E. from 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 19 at the Sikeston Kindergarten Center.
"Awareness is the key to the whole thing, for both law enforcement and parents," remarked McNiell. "We're going to educate our troopers so they'll be more aware of what this program is. It's a good program, it's nothing but positive. There's no cost to the public and it only takes a few minutes to attach the stickers to the vehicle. I commend John and the other volunteers who are trying to initiate this program in this area and other communities."
For more information on the program contact Jo Ann Matthews, head of the hospital auxiliary, at 471-1600.