CHICAGO — Children's injuries and deaths from window blinds have not stalled despite decades of safety concerns, according to a new U.S. study that recommends a complete ban on blinds with cords.
Nearly 17,000 young children were hurt by window blinds between 1990 and 2015, and though most injuries were minor, almost 300 died, the study shows. Most deaths occurred when children became entangled or strangled by the cords.
In Chattanooga, the cord from a window blind claimed the life of 1-year-old Colton Shero, two days before his second birthday.
His mother, Erin Shero, was watching TV in the basement of her Hixson home with her two toddlers on Oct. 17, 2013. She got up for five minutes to make them a snack, but when she came back, she noticed Colton was slumped over next to a window.
At first, Shero thought Colton was asleep, but when she picked him up, his head rolled back and she saw the cord. It was cutting into his neck. He wasn't breathing, and his lips were blue. She called 911 and started CPR, but it was too late. She tilted his head back to do compressions and saw a long, ugly mark under his chin left by the cord.
Shero kept the cord wrapped up, but evidence suggests Colton climbed to the windowsill and pulled it down before jumping from the windowsill. He jumped into the cord, which closed around the front of his neck, catching him under the chin.
Injuries continued even after manufacturers adopted voluntary safety standards, including warning labels. The industry now has a plan in the works to make cordless blinds the only option at retail stores and online.
Now, Shero says she hopes people will be more proactive in safety regarding the blinds in their homes.
"I had to learn the hard way," she said. "Nobody was telling me about it, there wasn't a big study out, I just lived it. And we've spent the last four years trying to educate."
The study "should be a huge wake-up call to the public, to the retailers, to the manufacturers and to parents all over the nation to really see how hazardous the cords on the blinds are," said Linda Kaiser of St Louis. Her 1-year-old daughter died in 2002 from strangulation when she pulled a looped hidden cord from a blind and put it around her neck. Kaiser later formed the advocacy group Parents for Window Blind Safety.
Shero, also a member of the advocacy group, said she hopes the study will help put a stop to deaths caused by window blinds. She said she hopes preventative methods are implemented, even if that means pulling the unsafe products off the shelf.
"If that means children can live, and no parent has to go through what we've been through, then that's my hope," she said. "I hope these accidents and these deaths cease."
While the study's data analysis doesn't show an up or down trend in injuries and deaths, the fact that they're still occurring shows that safety standards have been inadequate, said lead author, Dr. Gary Smith, who directs injuries research at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Paul Nathanson, spokesman for the Window Covering Manufacturers Association, said a soon-to-be adopted industry standard drafted with input from the Consumer Product Safety Commission will make corded blinds unavailable in stores and online, although consumers could buy them through custom orders.
The safety commission says windows and window blinds are among the top five hidden hazards in U.S. homes and in a statement, it called the draft standard "a major step forward in protecting children."
That standard is awaiting approval by the American National Standards Institute and is expected to take effect by late 2018, Nathanson said.
Smith said 20 percent are custom blinds and a total ban on corded blinds is needed.
The study was published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
His research team analyzed 26 years of U.S. government data on emergency room treatment and fatal injuries. The study notes that the dangers have been addressed in medical journal articles as far back as a 1945 report on two accidental hangings in children who survived.
"Seventy years ago, we recognized that this was a product that was killing kids," Smith said. "We should put child safety first."
Shero has cordless blinds now, but she hasn't been able to install them in her windows, even four years after her son's death.
She and her husband, Wade Shero, have a new baby girl now, and their four other children are growing up and advancing in school. She said they're OK now.
"The void is still very, very real," she said. "But we all just want to be the best reflection of who we think [Colton] would have been and make him proud of us."
Staff writer Rosana Hughes contributed to this story.
This story was updated Dec. 11 at 11:59 p.m. with local information.