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Treadmill death brings words of advice from Inland, U.S. experts

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Treadmill death brings words of advice from Inland, U.S. experts

Picture of Dan Lee
The Press-Enterprise
Monday, June 1, 2009

Despite the national media attention over the strangulation of boxer Mike Tyson's 4-year-old daughter by a treadmill cord, an Inland expert said child injuries involving exercise equipment are rarely fatal.

Dr. Lance Brown, chief of pediatric emergency medicine at Loma Linda University Children's Hospital, said he seldom sees children who have been injured by exercise equipment, probably because most injuries are rather minor.

"I cannot recall a single time in my career that I've encountered a child who died from exercise equipment," Brown said by phone.

Tyson's daughter, Exodus, died Tuesday after being strangled by a cord connected to a treadmill in her Phoenix home. The machine was not running at the time, authorities have said.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission does not have any data on fatalities related to treadmills, but about 2,600 children younger than age 5 are injured by treadmills each year in the United States, spokeswoman Arlene Fleche said. The majority of the accidents occurred while the parent was using the treadmill, she said.

"Usually there are cuts and bruises to the fingers or toes," Fleche said by phone.

Dr. Rodney Borger, chairman of the emergency department at Arrowhead Regional Medical Department in Colton, said children sometimes put their hands behind or underneath the treadmill.

"They get a bad burn or crush injury. That's something we see several times a year," he said by phone. "I haven't ever seen a strangulation injury."

Some studies have reported burns are so severe that children needed skin grafts and even plastic surgery.

The Australian state of New South Wales has introduced a new safety standard -- that will take effect today -- requiring all new treadmills to carry a prominent sticker warning parents to keep children away from the machines when they are in use.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled a number of treadmills over the years, but mainly for hazards to the treadmill operator -- such as unexpected acceleration -- rather than hazards to children specifically, according to a review of commission records.

Although manufacturers have added safety features to children's toys, cribs and household items such as window blinds, exercise equipment don't have those features, Brown said. But the Tyson case could prompt changes, he said.

In the meantime, the product safety commission recommends that parents create a safe zone around exercise equipment so children can't get at it when it is being operated, Fleche said. When not in use, parents should store or lock the equipment in a secure location, she said.

Parents can set up protective barriers around the equipment to keep out toddlers who haven't learned to walk yet, Brown said. But those would not keep a 4-year-old out, he said.

Brown questioned the storing or locking up of treadmills, noting that they are furniture-size equipment that might require another room.

"Most of us don't have those kinds of resources," he said. "It's really impractical."

Instead, parents could create certain areas in the household that are free for children to roam about, Brown said, and place other areas off-limits.