4-year-old survives 25-foot fall
Jessica Voeghtly took clothes from the dryer, put them on the couch and sat down when she heard what sounded like something hit her back door. The busy mother of three got up to check, expecting maybe a stunned bird.
“I opened the door and saw my son laying on the ground, unconscious with blood everywhere,” Voeghtly says.
In that instant, an ordinary laundry day turned into the most terrifying of her life. Her 4-year-old son Hunter had fallen from a second-story window onto the ground.
“I went into mom mode, scooped him up and started rubbing his back because he wasn’t breathing,” she recalls. “All of a sudden he took a deep breath and started screaming in pain.”
A few minutes earlier, Hunter had been playing and helping her change the sheets on her bed.
“He and the cat were playing on the bed and I told him to take the cat into his room while I got clothes out of the dryer,” Voeghtly says.
But the cat and Hunter had other ideas. Hunter followed the cat onto the windowsill. The window was open about three inches. It never occurred to Voeghtly that her preschooler would even try to open it all the way. But he did and, apparently assuming the screen would hold him in, leaned into it and fell 25 feet to the ground outside the back door.
Had his mother not heard it and found him immediately, things could have been much worse.
Voeghtly called 911 and the operator told her to lay him down.
“There was blood everywhere and I didn’t want him to choke on it,” she says.
So she propped him on the couch. Since she couldn’t call her husband, Anthony, while she was talking to the 911 operator, she snapped a picture of Hunter with her phone and texted it to him with the message, “Get home now.”
In hindsight, she says she wishes she would have done it differently. But in that moment, “I wanted him to be there for Hunter.”
In less than five minutes, paramedics were in the house. They scooped him into an ambulance and were en route to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital three minutes later.
It was an agonizing ride with Hunter alternating between seeming to lose consciousness, vomiting and calling for his mom, Voeghtly says.
“I was really shocked when we got there,” she says, comparing the arrival to previous emergency room visits. “I had never had so many people just waiting to care for him. I’ve been to other hospitals but never saw anything like this. There were at least 20 people waiting to take care of him.”
As Hunter and his mom rode in the ambulance from Puyallup, the Mary Bridge care team, alerted by paramedics to Hunter’s condition, assembled quickly and were ready to greet them. The team included doctors, nurses, a social worker and lab technicians, Voeghtly says.
“They helped calm me down,” she says.
The Mary Bridge team quickly assessed Hunter’s condition and diagnosed him with a small skull fracture, bleeding between his skull and brain and fractures on his cheekbone and upper lip.
“They said it was a small fracture on his skull,” she says. “But when I look at the X-ray it looks huge to me.”
The team carefully checked for spinal damage and found none.
Besides what the Mary Bridge team did for Hunter, Voeghtly is grateful for their efforts to keep her and his father informed.
“Everybody was so calming and understanding and when the doctors were in there talking their doctor talk they were also explaining what they were talking about,” she says.
Hunter went to the ICU for 24 hours, then to a regular room, and about 48 hours after arriving at Mary Bridge, he was on his way home.
“He had the nurses laughing in the ICU,” Voeghtly says. “They didn’t want him to leave because he was so funny.”
But Hunter, who by then was feeling self-conscious about his swollen-shut eye, was ready to head home.
“His first smile was on the way home from the hospital,” his mom says.
Coming home for the first time since the accident, Hunter’s parents immediately installed safety locks on all the upper-story windows.
“They can’t open more than two inches,” she says.
In under a week, Hunter was jumping around, resisting efforts to keep him calm while he recuperated.
“Within two weeks, you’d never have guessed he was in such a horrific accident,” she says.
Voeghtly says parents whose children experience such a traumatic accident need to give themselves some grace.
“Kids are going to be kids,” she says. “You can’t do the ‘what ifs.’ I did a couple ‘what ifs’ and I had to tell myself to cut it out. I was making it worse and I had to focus on how to get Hunter better.”
In a crisis, stay as calm as you can and get the help your child needs.
“It’s OK to ask questions,” she says of dealing with a child in the hospital. “And it’s OK to be scared.”
Tips to prevent window falls
- Do not rely on window screens; they are designed to keep bugs out, not kids in.
- Limit window openings to four inches or less by adding a window stop, which can be purchased at a hardware store or online.
- If a window must be open more than four inches, use an operable window guard instead.
- Choose window stops/guards that can be removed by an adult in an emergency (but avoid letting your child watch you open one).
- Only open windows outside of a child’s reach or climbing distance.
- Keep furniture away from windows to discourage little climbers.
- Teach children not to play near windows, but don’t rely on them to remember that.
- Plant grass or shrubbery beneath windows to soften the impact surface in case of a fall.
About the Mary Bridge Center for Childhood Safety
Mary Bridge’s Center for Childhood Safety's mission is to prevent unintentional childhood injury through health education, community partnerships and best practice prevention strategies. Learn more
About The Author
Cheryl Reid-Simons is a freelance writer and serial community volunteer. In her spare time, she drives a private activities shuttle for her twin sons, healthy graduates of the Tacoma General NICU and interim care nursery. More stories by this author