There’s no question that seat belts save lives, but in the case of 6-year-old Samantha Swartwout, it turns out they can also cause devastating damage.
Samantha was buckled into the backseat of her dad’s car on Sept. 17, when the vehicle suddenly veered off the road and into a tree in what ended up being an immensely high-impact collision. The worst part? Although Samantha should have been buckled into a booster seat based on her height and weight, she was restrained only by half of a standard, adult seat belt — she’d had the shoulder strap behind her, and was held in only by the lap belt.
Samantha suffered severe injuries as a result of the crash. The force of the impact literally sliced Samantha’s abdomen open, causing part of her intestines to spill out of her body.
Samantha’s mother Shelly Martin told CBS News that her daughter’s injuries — which also included a concussion, and a forehead laceration — would likely not have been as awful if she’d been in a booster seat.
“She would not have been this hurt in a booster,” Martin told CBS. “Don’t think that just because your child is 7 or 8 years that they are too big … they aren’t!”
Why is a booster seat so important? It all has to do with proper seat belt placement. According to TODAY Parents, a booster seat helps ensure that the lap belt sits across the hips, instead of rising up across the stomach, where it was situated when Samantha was in the car.
As Samantha’s surgeon, Dr. Charles Bagwell, chair of pediatric surgery at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU explained to TODAY, without a booster seat “the child is thrown forward with an absolutely enormous force, [and] the seat belt almost acts like a knife.”
After spending two weeks in the ICU, and one more week on the hospital’s pediatric floor, Samantha was able to come home in early October. But Martin says she’s not even close to being out of the woods.
In addition to needing another surgery to fully correct the damage done by the seat belt, Martin told The Daily Mail that her daughter has also suffered lingering psychological effects from the crash. Samantha is currently receiving treatment from a counsellor for PTSD, and Martin said she “struggles with the nightmares and loud noises.”
According to Boost ‘Em In The Back Seat, a booster seat safety project led by Department of Pediatrics‘ Division of Community Health and Research at Eastern Virginia Medical School, booster seats are necessary for all children who have outgrown forward-facing car seats but aren’t yet big enough that regular seat belts will fit them properly (this usually occurs between 8 and 12 years of age, depending on the child). Children should also remain in the backseat until they are at least 13 years old.
As tragic as Samantha’s injuries are, perhaps the most heart-wrenching part is that they could have potentially been avoided if she’d been in an appropriate car seat. As Bagwell told TODAY Parents, if Samantha had been in a booster seat, “she may not have needed an operation at all. Wearing a seat belt correctly has a tremendous impact if you are involved in an accident.”
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up in Samantha’s name to raise funds for her recovery and medical costs. They are currently halfway to their $10,000 goal.