If it wasn’t for the 6-inch scar across the right side of Thomas Keen Cunningham’s head, it’d be difficult to tell he fell out of a window in 2010 and almost died.
Thomas was 3 when he fell out of a second-story window at his family’s Cascade Park home, fractured his skull and underwent a long recovery for traumatic brain injury.
At 12, he’s able to play tennis, volleyball and run track. As his mother, Becca Keen Cunningham, wrote in an email interview conducted while the family was traveling in Japan: “Thomas is doing great now.”
Thomas has restrictions involving sports with higher concussion rates, and he will always have to be vigilant and protective of his head; a mild concussion could have devastating consequences for him, his mother wrote.
That’s why Keen Cunningham has stayed active raising awareness around window falls, which happen to 3,300 children ages 6 and younger each year in the U.S., and kill eight of those children on average, according to stopat4.com, a window safety advocacy website.
“I always appreciate it when people ask how Thomas is doing, but as far as our window fall prevention message, it is kind of beside the point,” Keen Cunningham wrote. “The point is that we could have prevented his fall and he almost died.”
“The most difficult experience of my life was when we knew Thomas might die and there was nothing we could do about it,” she said. “It’s an all-encompassing regret and terror that is inescapable. It really can’t be described — that feeling deep in every cell of your body that your child could actually be gone forever. If there is anything I could do or say that would keep another parent from having to experience that emotional agony, I will do it.”
That’s why about five years ago, Keen Cunningham wrote a children’s book called “If Kids Could Float: A Window Fall Prevention Story” as part of her advocacy around window safety. Keen Cunningham has a goal of eliminating window falls, and she works toward that through making the book available at libraries and public safety events in Washington and Oregon, she wrote.
Keen Cunningham and her husband, Jason, made a window safety training video, took up the cause on social media and put messages on buses and billboards to promote window safety.
For Keen Cunningham, the work hasn’t been fulfilling as much as it has been frustrating. It’s tough to encounter parents who have seen worse outcomes for their kids after a window fall. It’s frustrating to know that window falls are still causing injuries and deaths. That’s why her family is continuing their advocacy work.
“I have met other families whose children haven’t recovered as well as our son did or whose children didn’t survive,” Keen Cunningham wrote. “When I look those parents in the eyes, I just want to hug them until all their pain goes away, but I know nothing can ever take that kind of pain away, and I also know they didn’t do anything different to deserve the outcome they’ve had to bear.
“The message I want everyone to hear is that ‘they can do something about it now,’ ” she said. “They can make sure this doesn’t happen in their family.’”
Becca Keen Cunningham’s book, “If Kids Could Float: A Window Fall Prevention Story,” is available for purchase through Amazon. Copies can also be purchased from Keen Cunningham, firstname.lastname@example.org. All profits will go toward window fall prevention. Cunningham also offers a free book bag program, where day cares and schools can share the book with families in their programs. Interested teachers and principals can email her.