I will never forget the scream, or the look on my sister’s face, or the sight of my 4-year-old daughter lying still on the deck with a window screen close by. I will never forget the ambulance ride to the hospital, or the excruciating hours in the waiting room, or being told my daughter wasn’t going to make it.
That night in March of 2011 was a collection of moments that shattered my world, because it was the night my daughter fell from a third-story window.
I am telling my story to bring awareness because a window fall is a preventable accident. If I convince one parent to safeguard their home, then it is worth it.
Let me assure you, I am — and always have been — a responsible and cautious mother. I love, cherish, and worry about my children the same as you. The reality is, unforeseen accidents happen in the care of amazing parents and caregivers every day. The night of the accident, the house was full of vigilant parents and grandparents. Not one of us suspected a window had been opened. It had been opened by an older child with no knowledge of the potential dangers. So please, open your heart and allow yourself to recognize that if it can happen to me and my family, it can happen to yours.
It was an unseasonably warm day in March. It was my nephew’s 13th birthday, and my sister invited us over for an impromptu celebration. So my husband and I loaded our girls — 2-year old Harper and 4-year-old Hannah — into the double stroller and headed out to walk to my sister’s house.
It was a beautiful afternoon. Several cousins and a handful of friends ran free in the yard and played on the swing set. Hannah was working very hard to pull herself up the slide on a rope repeating, “I think I can…I think I can” with conviction. She was so proud of herself when she finally made it to the top.
She beamed with joy that night and with the love and laughter of family and friends all around her. As the evening came to a close, I had my 2-year-old in my arms as I ran around collecting coats from around the house. I told Hannah to go up to the third story playroom to grab her shoes. It was the last time I saw her smile as she trotted off up the stairs.
The next thing I heard was my sister scream, “Hannah Fell!”. I remember thinking to myself that maybe she had tripped down the deck steps or fell while running in the backyard. Before I could process the panic in my sister’s voice, she screamed again, “She fell from the third story!”.
As she began calling 911, I handed my daughter to her cousin and ran to the back deck. There, on the deck, lay my sweet Hannah, still and lifeless, but breathing. There are absolutely no words to express the fear and shock that overtook me at the moment. In fact, I stopped breathing and talking and completely separated from reality. I was not in my body.
It was the longest ride imaginable in the ambulance. I’ll spare you (and myself) the details. Hannah was rushed in for brain surgery, and the next time we saw her, her head was shaved and stitched. When I went to hold her hand and speak to her, I knew she was gone. A mother knows. However, it wasn’t until the early hours of the morning when we were told that Hannah was not going to survive. She passed away as her Father and I rocked her and reassured her how much we love her.
It is truly heart-wrenching to revisit that night. My husband has told our story — with overwhelming emotion — to auditoriums full of weeping people. We have found that when we can connect on an emotional level with parents, we can initiate change. We relive our worst nightmare in hopes people will wake up and take action.
Annually, over 5,000 children are seen in the emergency room for window falls.
That number increases if you include falls which did not result in a serious injury or when medical treatment was refused. The weather is becoming warmer, and windows will be opening. With families sheltering in place and children stuck inside for hours, constant supervision can be challenging.
Safeguarding our homes is the next best way to avoid preventable injuries.
Hannah Geneser Foundation
After Hannah’s accident, our family started the Hannah Geneser Foundation. Our mission is to keep children safe by bringing awareness around window safety and other potential safety hazards. Soon after, we partnered with Blank Children’s Hospital’s Center for Advocacy and Outreach and Safe Kids Greater Des Moines, and in October of 2018 we opened the Hannah Geneser Learning Center and Safety Store at Blank Children’s Hospital. Hundreds of safety products and devices are sold there, including window stops, mesh window guards and product information on safety screens.
Even though the Safety Store’s physical location is currently closed due to COVID-19, phone orders with consultations and curbside pickup in two locations are available. Call 515-241-6706 to speak with an expert.
I encourage you to visit our website to learn more about how to safeguard your home from window falls.
I would like to leave you with some of the hazards which lead to Hannah’s fall.
- The window was on a third-story addition above a window seat. It is important to keep furniture away from windows at all times.
- There was a flimsy screen in place. Standard screens are designed to keep bugs out, not children in.
- The window overlooked an area of interest. It is important to be aware of things that may draw children to a window and test their curiosity.
- Lastly, although the window would have been difficult for a young child to open, an older child was certainly able. Please educate all members on your household about the potential dangers of open windows.
Visit hannahgeneserfoundation.org for more information.
Shanda Boone lives in Beaverdale with her husband, Jamie Geneser, daughters Harper (11) and Violet (7), along with their three dogs. She is Vice President of The Hannah Geneser Foundation, volunteers for the Hannah Geneser Learning Center & Safety Store at Blank Children’s Hospital and works part-time for a wholistic Nurse Practitioner. Shanda and her family love to travel, with favorite spots in Boulder, CO, Encinitas, CA and Sedona, AZ. She is currently writing a book about her experience and hopes to one day lead a healing group for mothers who have lost children.
Connect with UnityPoint Health Des Moines
This post is part of a series of sponsored posts by UnityPoint Health Des Moines.