A time to heal: reducing childhood injury

“In my nursing career I have been part of several resuscitations of catastrophically injured children,” Associate Professor Kate Curtis from the University of Sydney Nursing School, University of Sydney says. “Injury has devastating long-term consequences. In the blink of an eye, family life changes forever. I want the way we look after injured children and their parents to be the best it can be.”

Associate Professor Curtis is more than 18 months into a six-year study examining the incidence of severe paediatric trauma, bringing together the evidence needed to change healthcare policy to better support critically injured children and their parents, as well as ensuring the children are treated at the right hospital.

The study has been made possible by a donation of $644,226 from the Day of Difference Foundation, founded in 2004 by Ron and Carolyn Delezio after they experienced first-hand what parents of injured children suffer when their two-year-old daughter, Sophie, was critically injured in 2003.

“Injury in children results in more than 1000 hospital admissions a week – double that of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease combined. Despite these huge numbers, we don’t know why these injuries are occurring, which means we can’t work towards preventing them,” Associate Professor Curtis says.

Working alongside Associate Professor Curtis is a team including Associate Professor Kim Foster from the University of Canberra, and Associate Professor Rebecca Mitchell from Macquarie University – together they are already making good progress.

“To date we have reviewed more than 3000 papers and begun to collate data and generate evidence to close three major gaps in paediatric trauma knowledge: where and why childhood injury is occurring in Australia; where a severely injured child go and how we get them there; and how best to support the family.”

Moves already underway to close these gaps include the appointment of a major trauma family support coordinator at the Women and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide for a 12-month pilot, and a study that follows 30 families for two years after their child has been severely injured, listening to their stories, experience and investigating their unmet needs.

But this study, which is also supported by funding from the Thyne Reid Foundation, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the NSW Agency for Clinical Innovation, is about much more than generating evidence. “This project will see the implementation of changes to the healthcare system followed by an evaluation of their effectiveness,” Associate Professor Curtis says. “It’s an Australian first.”

Creating change

For the Day of Difference Foundation, supporting the study is about making a permanent change.

“Until now, no-one has collected information about what causes injuries in children, where they happen, what happens afterwards and the impact on the parents and siblings of the injured children,” says Charles Dennis, CEO of the Day of Difference Foundation .

“We know that families are falling through the cracks because of this knowledge gap, but in order to make systemic change, we have to have the evidence. That is why we are working with Associate Professor Curtis and her team and we’re delighted with the progress already made in this vital evidence-gathering stage of the study.”

In 2003, Australia watched in horror as the Delezio family’s life was changed forever when two-year old Sophie was involved in a car crash at her day-care centre in Sydney, critically injuring her and another little girl.  Tragically in 2006 Sophie was injured again when she was hit by a car, resulting in multiple broken bones, punctured lungs, two fractured vertebrae and a brain injury. Against all odds, Sophie survived.

Ron and Carolyn Delezio launched the Day of Difference Foundation in 2004 when they realised they shared many difficult experiences with parents of critically injured children. Their aim was to create positive systemic change to help reduce the impact that life-changing injuries have on families.

“By initiating and supporting this study, the Foundation plays an incredibly important role in discovering the best way to help families through their trauma journey and, in due course, influencing improvements to health care policy, reducing the cost-burden to the Australian health infrastructure,” Charles says.


Note: The study is also supported by an anonymous philanthropic donation.