Doctor: ATV accidents can seriously injure a child

July 19, 2004 - Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Peoria

Peoria Journal Star PEORIA - A beautiful day on the DiSomma farm in Cuba turned tragic when 8-year-old Rebecca DiSomma flipped the family's all-terrain vehicle.

Rebecca wound up under the ATV and suffered numerous injuries, including a lacerated kidney and a damaged spleen.

Now, her parents, Bill and Mary DiSomma, want the nation to know how dangerous these machines are for children.

"I think there needs to be a public awareness much like the air bags. Volunteers need to pass out materials," Mary DiSomma said. "I want people to know the amount of deaths and handicaps this causes."

Rebecca had just finished horseback riding and went for a ride with a teenage friend on the family's six-wheel ATV.

Rebecca was driving, hit a pothole and flipped the vehicle. Her friend, who was wearing a seat belt, was hanging upside down. Rebecca, who wasn't wearing a seat belt, was under the 2,500 pound machine. Family members used a tractor to remove the ATV from her body.

At first they thought she

suffered just a few scratches but soon realized it was a lot worse.

When she started having difficulty breathing, her grandfather took her to Graham Hospital in Canton, said her father, Bill DiSomma. Once she got there, she was flown by LifeFlight to Children's Hospital of Illinois at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.

"I can't imagine anything worse in my life happening," Bill DiSomma said.

Rebecca was the fourth child in central Illinois seriously injured in an ATV accident in recent weeks, said Dr. Rick Pearl, chief of surgery at Children's Hospital.

"ATV crashes in children are extremely serious," Pearl said. "This is a national problem."

Although it will be a long recovery, Rebecca will be OK and has returned home to Oak Park. She spent several days in the hospital and suffered many internal injuries, including a lacerated kidney, broken ribs, fractures of her spine and a damaged spleen, Mary DiSomma said.

"Most people that own ATVs have no concept of the danger they are putting their children in," Pearl said.

That is exactly why Mary DiSomma wants to help people understand how dangerous these machines are for children.

Bill and Mary DiSomma, who own the Cuba farm but were at their home in Oak Park at the time of the accident, thought they had done the right thing. They researched the safest machinery and made sure the vehicle had seat belts and a roll bar. And they stressed the need to wear those seat belts.

"If she had the seat belt on, she would have been safe," Bill DiSomma said. "The parents, what they don't realize is, unless you are going to sit on that vehicle and be vigilant, you are going to be in trouble."

The dangers of ATVs aren't a surprise to Dr. John Hafner, director of research for the Emergency Medicine Residency Program at St. Francis.

"Unfortunately we see a lot of these kids move through here," Hafner said. "The best way to avoid injuries is for children under 16 not to ride these at all."

The Children's Hospital worked to get a three-year, $161,000 grant to develop an Injury Free Coalition for Kids program site in central Illinois. The goal is to reduce injuries to children - including ATV injuries.

"The plan is to put together a health promotions campaign associated with ATV use," Hafner said.

Both Hafner and Pearl hope to see stricter laws governing ATV use in Illinois, including mandated helmets and age restrictions.

In 2003, St. Francis saw 45 children who were hurt riding ATVs. The injured ranged from age 2 to 17.

So far this year, DiSomma was the 29th pediatric patient at St. Francis injured while riding an ATV.

More than 15 million people ride ATVs, Hafner said.

The number of emergency room visits from ATV-related injuries nationally more than doubled in a four-year period, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In 1997, 54,700 patients were taken to hospitals because of emergency room visits, compared with 111,700 in 2001. About 30 percent of those injured in 2001 were children, and 174 children died.

The problems with children riding ATVs are failure to wear helmets, bad judgment, riding with a passenger, and driving an ATV larger than the recommended use.

Between 1994 and 2001, St. Francis has identified 187 pediatric patients - ranging from 2 to 17 years - who were victims of ATV accidents. Per capita, Marshall and Woodford counties had the highest injury rate. About 44 percent of children rolled the vehicle and only 13 percent were wearing helmets.

"Unless you are using it as a farm vehicle to do farm work on level terrain," Pearl said, children have no business riding them. "The parents are well meaning … but prospectively they don't see the risk."

Bill DiSomma is getting rid of his all-terrain vehicle.

"I want to make a statement to my kids that these vehicles are too dangerous," he said.


John Hafner, Jr., M.D., FACEP
Co-Primary Investigator, Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Peoria
Phone 309-671-4601