Parents are being warned about the danger of forward-facing car seats after a car crash left a baby boy with severe head trauma and fighting for his life.
Mum Zoe, from Melbourne, had been strapping her 10-month-old son Jax into his car seat facing the back of the vehicle since birth, and it's because of this she says he's still alive.
The life-changing collision happened in July 2020, but her story has recently been shared by safety and first-aid service CPR kids ahead of the Easter long weekend.
"We share this again now as an important reminder for everybody going away on road trips over Easter. Car seat safety is so important," they wrote.
Zoe was on her way to her parents' house when she was involved in a serious car accident, which left her son with a fractured skull, bleeding on the brain and a torn ligament in his neck.
The panicked mum woke up in hospital but Jax was "nowhere to be seen," she recalled. He'd been airlifted to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne with life-threatening injuries.
"Nothing could have prepared me for seeing my little man in that massive bed with so many tubes and wires everywhere," she said in a post at the time.
"He had a fractured skull, a brain bleed, high pressures in the brain, and a torn ligament in his neck. It was an awful lot to process, I had no memory of what happened and suddenly I could lose my precious boy."
Admitting it was "touch and go for a while", baby Jax was able to go home after four weeks in hospital, having had four surgeries on his head.
But his astonishing recovery was thanks to Zoe's decision to keep his seat rear-facing. If she hadn't "he definitely wouldn’t be here," doctors told her.
Current car seat safety standards
Zoe is on a mission to "normalise extended rearward facing (ERF)" child seats. This means keeping your child in a rear-facing position for longer than the recommended age set by individual states and territories.
In Victoria, where she lives, children up to four years old are required to be fitted into either a rear or forward-facing seat, with forward-facing seats most suitable for kids above the age of four.
According to the Vic Roads website, rear-facing seats "give the best support and protection to a child’s head and neck in a crash."
In NSW, similar rules apply. Babies up to six months old must face the back of the car. But any age above that up to four years old have the option to face forward depending on their height.
Zoe is urging parents to "reconsider" if they've already turned their kids' seats around.
"I’m hoping that by sharing our story it may convince some people to rearward face for as long as possible," Zoe said on Instagram as a reminder for other parents.
"During an impact [in a rear-facing seat], your child's body is cradled in the seat while the crash forces are distributed across the shell of the seat," they explained in a post on Facebook.
"In a forward-facing seat, a child's head and body are thrust forward with the crash forces, and the harness is the main point of contact."
In Australia, all car seats are equipped with height markers to indicate when a child grows out of their seat, and which can be used in a rear-facing position, as not all seats are designed to do so.
"Your child’s height is actually more important than age when it comes to deciding when to switch from a rear-facing to a forward-facing position," they said.
Paediatrician and director of the Royal Children's Hospital National Child Health Poll, Dr Anthea Rhodes, previously told ABC it was important for kids to stay rear-facing for as long as possible.
This is because of the anatomy and bone strength of a child. Kids under two have a large head compared to their body and their necks aren't very strong.
"You could imagine, the heavy head is thrown forward and very prone to severe injury to the neck and spine," she said.
"By having a child rearward-facing they're protected because the force is experienced in a different way and they're much less likely to injure their neck and spine."
Jax's recovery: 'Very grateful I still have him in my life'
Zoe has continued to raise awareness about car seat safety on Instagram as well as regular updates about Jax.
Last year, Zoe said Jax, as a toddler, was "developmentally behind in talking and was very delayed in walking". She will never know if the head trauma from the accident is to blame, she said.
"I’m very grateful I still have him in my life and I can still hear him laugh and watch him grow. I consider myself very lucky that I knew to ERF, and I will continue to RF (rear-face) him until he’s maxed out every height marker," she said.
"Take the time to strap in your kids right, do the pinch test, and keep them rearward for as long as you can. Being vigilant about car safety will save your child’s life in an accident. I’ll be forever thankful it saved Jax."
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