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Suburban doctors, parents weigh in on the trampoline debate
By Jamie Sotonoff | Daily Herald Staff

From left Savannah,8, and Mikey,6, Lawrence, Michael Brown 9, and Selena Lawrence, 5, of South Elgin jump on the trampoline at their home in South Elgin Thursday afternoon.

 

Meredith Mercier

Lyann Gonzalez, 5, and her sister Jenny, 13, right, jump on a trampoline with their cousin Tiffany Negron, 18, right.

 

Rick West | Staff Photographer

The Rubey children and their friends jump on their backyard trampoline in Downers Grove.

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

Kiley Rubey, 7, and her friends jump on the trampoline in their Downers Grove back yard.

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

The Rubey children and their friends jump on their backyard trampoline in Downers Grove.

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/5/2009 12:00 AM

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Of the 104,752 trampoline injuries reported in 2008:

88% were children under 18

76% happened at home

1.8% required hospitalization

Injury breakdown

16% ankle

14% knee and lower leg

11% hand, wrist, fingers

10.5% head and neck

10% arms

10% trunk

9% face and mouth

7% feet

12.5% other

Injuries by year

2008 - 104,752

2007 - 107,435

2006 - 109,522

2005 - 108,029

2004 - 111,851

2003 - 98,395

2002 - 89,393

How to jump safely

• Jump one person at a time

• Keep constant adult supervision

• Install safety netting around the trampoline

• Cover the steel rim and springs with a safety pad

• Don't do flips or summersaults

• Don't attach a ladder to the trampoline, to prevent small children from climbing on

• Keep children under age 6 from jumping

Sources: U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, American Academy of Pediatrics, Daily Herald interviews

While jumping with her friends on a large, backyard trampoline over Memorial Day weekend, 8-year-old Hannah Rickett of Mount Prospect accidentally fell backward through the unzipped netting.

She landed on the ground, two feet below, and hit the back of her head on a rock. The emergency room doctors at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights had to put four staples in her head to close up her wounds.

"When we went to the ER, the doctor said, 'Oh, you're my second (trampoline injury) of the night.' And while we were waiting ... the doctor came in and said, 'You're not going to believe this, but the third one just came in,'" said Hannah's mother, Brandie Rickett. "I always jumped on trampolines when I was a kid and nothing ever happened ... but they can be dangerous. Hannah was very, very lucky."

Pediatricians constantly warn of the dangers of backyard trampolines. The American Academy of Pediatrics condemns their use. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission reports more than 100,000 injuries each year on trampolines, almost all involving children. And lawyers note that trampoline owners can be liable for accidents and injuries.

Despite this, trampoline sales remain strong and they continue to be popular items in suburban backyards. Tens of thousands of suburban kids jump on them every summer without needing an ice pack or a legal waiver. It's an Olympic sport.

So, are trampolines that dangerous? Are the warnings an overreaction? Do the benefits of a trampoline outweigh the risks? Or are parents taking a gamble by ignoring the warnings?

Like many people, suburban doctors have mixed feelings about trampolines. In this childhood obesity epidemic, they recognize trampolines as providing physical activity that kids love and need. New designs and safety devices, such as nets, help prevent falls. Serious injuries, while possible, are rare.

Yet, many local doctors still discourage their use because they routinely see children with painful bruises, sprains and fractures caused by falling off, landing in a bad position, or colliding with other kids on trampolines.

Dr. Matilda Rosanwo, who works in the emergency room at Provena St. Joseph Hospital in Lake in the Hills, recently treated a boy with a rare foot fracture, which he got on a trampoline.

"It was very painful," Rosanwo said. "If people were aware of this type of potential injury, they might be more cautious."

If certain neck or muscle injuries occur, it can lead to long-term problems such as stunted growth, added Dr. Rebecca Carl, a pediatrician with Children's Memorial at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.

"I'm not a big fan of (trampolines). But if you're going to use them, you have to follow some rules," Carl said.

The rules set by the AAP and trampoline manufacturers - such as one person at a time, no flips, and constant supervision - aren't always enforced. Even if parents follow these rules, Darien pediatrician Dr. Garry Gardner still sees risks.

"The dilemma for us is there's no really good way to make them completely safe. The nets themselves can be a source for injury if they're not installed properly," said Gardner, who chairs an AAP committee on injury prevention. "If it were me, I wouldn't have a big trampoline in my backyard."

He might not, but thousands of suburban families do. Trampoline owners say their equipment is no more dangerous than a skateboard, a swimming pool or a playground, and their children have safely jumped on them for years.

Cathy Rubey of Downers Grove bought a trampoline this May for her twin 7-year-old girls. They love it, as do the neighborhood kids, but Rubey forbids anyone from using it unless an adult is home. She also routinely checks to make sure everything is secure and the bolts are tight.

"If it's properly supervised, like anything else, it's fine. Accidents are going to happen when you get a bunch of kids together in one area, anyway," she said. "If you put it out there and don't pay attention, yeah, bad things are going to happen. But it's been fun ... and it's a great workout."

Trampoline owner Gary Silbar of Highland Park puts a three-person limit on his backyard trampoline and respects the wishes of parents who don't want their children on it.

"I don't look at it as being dangerous," Silbar said. "But we had one parent who said, 'I don't want my kid jumping on the trampoline,' and we said 'Fine.' We respect that. We all just did something else."

Silbar advocates the use of safety equipment, such as helmets for bike riders, but believes bumps and bruises are part of childhood.

"When kids play around, things happen," he said. "You can't have your kids in a bubble all the time. You've got to let them be kids. You just have to go about it as safely and smartly as you can."

Trampoline sales peaked in 2004, when 1.1 million were sold in the U.S., said Mark Publicover, the CEO of JumpSport, a California-based trampoline company and the inventor of several trampoline safety devices, including the safety net.

In 2008, despite the recession, about 900,000 trampolines were sold nationwide.

Publicover, a father of three who once broke his leg on a trampoline, said there are safe and unsafe ways to play on everything. It helps when parents invest in a good-quality products and keep them well-maintained.

"Trampolines get bad publicity," Publicover said. "People look at trampolines differently because there was such negative press years and years ago when they first came out. Swingsets cause 15 deaths a year, and kids play on trampolines far more hours than they play on swingsets."

The legal liability issue also comes up in the love-hate trampoline debate, with insurance agents and lawyers likening it to having a swimming pool in your back yard. Supervision and safety issues will become critical if someone gets hurt.

Filing a lawsuit doesn't interest the Ricketts. After the accident, all three of their children are forbidden from jumping on trampolines, even though they beg to - even Hannah.

"To her, it was like falling off a bike," Brandie Rickett said. "We were thinking of buying one ... but no, we are definitely not getting one now."