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Dangerous Jungle Gyms

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Ronda Kaysen:When Ninoska Castellanos took her 2 1/2-year-old to an indoor play gym, she assumed her daughter would get to burn off a little steam. It never occurred to her that little Emma might leave the gym with a broken leg.

Jungle gym

The incident happened in June at Jumping Jelly Beans, an indoor gym in Hallandale Beach, Florida. When Emma spotted a climbing wall with other kids scaling it, she ran for it. She had climbed only a few feet when she fell to the floor and broke her leg. Doctors worry the break might have affected her growth plate, which could stunt her growth.

"I was very desperate," Castellanos told a local television station. "I was very nervous.The most that she went up was two feet."

Castellanos lobbed a lawsuit against Jumping Jelly Beans last month, claiming the gym failed to post a sign telling parents that the climbing wall, built by a Chinese manufacturer, was intended for kids aged 5 and up -- not for children as young as Emma.

"The mother was told [Emma] could climb on the wall," Castellanos' lawyer, Spencer Aronfeld, told momlogic. "I certainly think that if a facility has an activity that's designed for people of a certain age, they should warn people." Aronfeld also suspects that the padding beneath the wall was too flimsy to absorb a fall.

Jumping Jelly Beans declined to comment for this story.

Jungle-gym injuries are all too common in the United States. Last month, 9-year-old Alyssa Avila of Oklahoma was killed on the schoolyard when she was hit in the head by a piece of playground equipment called the X-Wave.

The number of kids injured on public playgrounds has doubled since 1980, according to Safe Kids USA, an advocacy group. In 2004, more than 200,000 children aged 14 and under were treated in emergency rooms for playground injuries. Falls account for 80 percent of all playground injuries.

"Most of the injuries are minor," said Dr. Andy Kienstra, a specialist in pediatric emergency medicine at Texas Children's Hospital, adding that head injuries are the most common, especially among young kids. Serious injuries are "pretty rare, but you don't even want one child to have a catastrophic event like that," he said.

There are things parents can do to keep their kids safe. Kienstra says that the biggest risk to playground safety is actually found in your kid's closet: Drawstrings on sweaters and sweatshirts pose a serious strangulation risk, and kids should never use them.

Parents can also teach their kids to play safely on the playground. They should instruct their kids not to push or shove other kids, and to use the equipment the way it was intended (that means no walking down the slides!). Also, if a jungle gym is full of big kids, keep the little ones off of it so they don't get underfoot.

When you arrive at a playground, do a cursory inspection and make sure the ground isn't grass or concrete. Grass might look soft, but it doesn't absorb falls well, and kids can get hurt. Soft materials like wood chips, mulch, peat or sand are far safer. Alsopay attention to what equipment is present. Most public playgrounds post the age recommendations for their jungle gyms. Take heed.

"If you've got a 2-year-old, they probably shouldn't be climbing on something that's intended for a 5-year-old," said Dr. Sean Cahill, an associate professor of pediatrics at Loyola University. "If you are going to let them climb on it, you should be right behind them to pull them off if should they get into trouble."

next: Rehab 101
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