Children's Health

All-Terrain Vehicles Require Caution

Nine-year-old Shay Atwood of Grant is lucky to be alive following an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accident that severed his aorta. The aorta is the largest artery in the body and is responsible for delivering oxygenated blood. Despite 13 surgeries, 13 weeks in critical care and a long road of rehabilitation ahead, Atwood’s future remains hopeful. Physicians at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital encourage ATV and snowmobile riders to follow safety guidelines.

“ATVs and snowmobiles are powerful machines capable of very high speeds, and they lead to similar types of injuries. Most injuries occur when the driver loses control, the vehicle rolls over, a driver or passenger is thrown off, or there is a collision with a vehicle or fixed object,” said James DeCou, M.D., pediatric surgeon and trauma director, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “They are simply too big and too powerful for most children. Thousands of children are injured annually, and some even die, from injuries sustained while riding these vehicles. It is very important to follow strict safety guidelines if children are going to use ATVs or snowmobiles.”

Atwood was driving an ATV at dusk when his cousin riding on the back of the vehicle fell off. Atwood looked back, hit a stump and suddenly stopped. Although no external injuries were apparent, the sudden impact pushed the handle bars into Atwood’s chest, severing his aorta.

Atwood was taken to Gerber Memorial Hospital in Fremont and was transferred to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery to repair the damaged aorta. However, lack of blood flow to his lower extremities prior to surgery resulted in a host of problems. Internal injuries required removal of the large bowel and part of the small bowel. Atwood now receives dialysis treatment three times a week from chronic kidney failure caused by his injuries. He eats through a feeding tube and is in a wheelchair.

In accordance with the American Academy of Pediatrics, experts at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital recommend parents enforce the following guidelines:

ATV Safety

  • Drivers should be at least 16-years-old
  • Don’t allow passengers on the vehicle
  • Riders should wear a helmet designed for a motorcycle, eye protection and reflective clothing’
  • Never drive an ATV on the street
  • Don’t drive at night
  • Drivers should travel at safe speeds, especially on unfamiliar or rugged terrain
  • Flags, reflectors and lights should be used to make vehicles more visible

Snowmobile Safety

  • Drivers should be at least 16-years-old
  • Children under six should not be a passenger on a snowmobile
  • Drive with no more than one passenger
  • Don’t drive at night and be to sure ride on groomed trail
  • Drivers should acquire a learner’s permit by taking a state-sanctioned course
  • Drivers should travel at safe speeds, especially on unfamiliar or rugged terrain
  • Riders and passengers should wear well-insulated protective clothing including goggles, waterproof snowmobile suits, gloves, a helmet and rubber-bottomed boots
  • Snowmobilers should avoid driving on ice if they are uncertain about its thickness or condition
  • Don’t use a saucer, tube, sled or skis to pull someone behind a snowmobile

“Parents can’t raise their children in a bubble but they can enforce safety precautions,” said Pam Atwood, Shay’s mother. “Shay will ride again but not without proper protection. Don’t give in to your kids saying ‘Oh, nothing’s going to happen’. It can and does. Shay is proof. At this point, Shay is nothing short of a miracle.”

Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is West Michigan’s largest children’s hospital, serving children and families throughout a 37-county region. A teaching hospital, it includes more than 150 pediatric specialty physicians uniquely skilled in providing medical and surgical care to children in more than 40 pediatric specialties. The hospital cares for more than 7,500 inpatients and 150,000 outpatients annually. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is committed to caring for children and families with compassion, excellence and innovation.