FORT WORTH -- Trina Argo believed she had thoroughly childproofed her family's southwest Fort Worth apartment.
The 30-year-old Fort Worth mother and her husband, Robert, had installed electrical outlet covers and metal plate lock covers, and use a baby gate to keep their 18-month-old son, Charlie, from getting onto the balcony when the door is open.
But it was an open window in their master bedroom on a rare, cool September day that ended up posing the biggest threat.
"It's not like we just let our kids just run around and do whatever," Argo said. "I guess that's why I got so frustrated with myself. I missed that one little part and that's something that could have killed him above everything else."
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On the evening of Sept. 22, while momentarily out of his parents' sight, Charlie fell through the second-story window.
My husband "was already looking for him before he fell out the window," Argo said. "He was turning the corner when he heard the sound of the screen popping out and then he heard Charlie scream. He didn't see him fall. He just saw the open window and he said, 'Oh my God! He fell out the window!'"
Charlie suffered only minor injuries -- one of three children to survive falls from multistory windows in Tarrant County in just one week. Officials say criminal charges are not being pursued in any of the cases, as they appear to be accidental and did not involve neglect.
According to a study released in late August, an average of 5,180 children 17 and younger are treated in emergency rooms each year for injuries related to falls from windows. Children ages 4 and under are the most vulnerable, accounting for 65 percent of the injuries, according to the study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
"When you think of childproofing your home, we all hear about things like walkers, padding sharp edges on tables, hot surfaces, but somehow falls from windows doesn't quite always make it on the list," said Dr. Gary Smith, director of the center and the study's senior author. "It's something we need to remind parents about."
Fort Worth police Detective Dennis Hutchins agrees that such falls are not uncommon.
"Usually we see a rise in them during the springtime after it's been cold for a few months or two and temperatures are staring to warm up," Hutchins said.
Youngest kids at risk
The study examined data obtained from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System on window-fall injuries treated in 100 U.S. emergency departments over 19 years.
It found that preschool-age children are at the highest risk of such falls, with boys accounting for more than 58 percent of the cases.
"They're curious, they're quick, and they don't recognize danger," Smith said of young children. "When they see that window up, they want to go investigate."
When they do fall, the degree of injury depends on the height of the fall and the surface that a child lands on. One in 4 children in the study was hospitalized as a result of the injury.
"Some have been fortunate enough to land in an area like a flower bed that's just been freshly mulched, or some bushes that cushion or absorb the energy and it was enough to break the fall and they ended up with minor injuries," Smith said.
Charlie landed on the dirt, still soft from rain that had fallen a couple of days before, his mother said.
"We picked him up. He was crying. I'd been an EMT for eight years. I know you're not supposed to move them, but when it's your children and they're screaming like that, I think the mother instinct jumps in before the EMT instinct."
He was taken to a hospital but was released hours later after X-rays and scans revealed no broken bones or internal injuries.
Screens aren't a barrier
A few hours before Charlie's fall, a 3-year-old boy fell from a third-story window at an Arlington apartment complex on East Sanford Street after climbing onto a couch in front of an open window and pressing against the window screen, which gave way. The boy was flown to a hospital with serious injuries, but they were not believed to be life-threatening.
"It's going to be a long recovery process that will require a lot of surgeries," Arlington police spokeswoman Tiara Richard said. "It's going to be tough on this little boy."
And five days later, on Sept. 27, a 1-year-old boy watching through a third-story window as his mother unpacked groceries from the car fell through a screened window at his family's apartment in the 3700 block of Vaucluse Drive in Fort Worth. The boy was hospitalized overnight but was released the next day.
According to the study, of the cases that indicated the condition of the window before the fall, 82.8 percent had a screen in place.
"Until it happens, people don't realize that those screens aren't put on there to be a barrier," Hutchins said. "They're designed to keep bugs out. That's it."
Argo said she had opened the window that day when her son was in day care and left it open after he returned. She said that while common sense tells her a window screen won't keep a child inside, its mere presence "kept me from thinking rationally."
"I wouldn't have even opened the window if there wasn't a screen in place," Argo said.
Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655