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Tri-Cities teacher invents device to prevent children from dying in hot cars

JOHNSON COUNTY, TN (WJHL) - For Susan Quave, it's part invention and part life-mission.

"I can't sit by and watch.  I have to do something," the middle school teacher said.

Spread out on the kitchen table of her log cabin home near Watauga Lake in Butler, Tennessee, Quave displays the evolution of an idea that began in 2014 when someone she knew accidentally left their child in a car.

Fortunately, the child was found and survived.

"It was devastating... to everyone.  It turned out ok.  The child is ok.  But it was profound. It was horrifying."  

So in 2014 - the Johnson County Middle School teacher decided to turn her horror into action,
armed simply with a pencil, some paper, and a question.

"Why isn't there something to let parents know that there's an infant or let someone outside the car know there's an infant in trouble?"

Beyond her personal experience, she said the national statistics alarmed her.

The National Safety Council estimated 37 children died every year from what's called pediatric vehicular heat stroke or PVH.   42 children died in 2017. 

According to kidsandcars.org , Tennessee ranks 8th in the nation with 30 PVH deaths since 1990.  Virginia ranks 11th with 22.

So Quave got to work designing a device that could attach to or be part of a car seat.   From the start, she wanted her invention to do two things.  "Notify people around the vehicle that there's an infant in trouble and lower the temperature to try to give the infant minutes to be saved," Quave said.

Drawings became schematics, and after three attempts she finally got a patent last October.

Quave had to come up with a name for invention as part of the patent process.   "I just kept thinking, 'Don't Forgot Me' so that became the name."

Basically "Don't Forget Me" includes a pad under the child with a fan attached to a handle above the child.  When a sensor detects weight in the seat and a temperature above a set limit, the device would begin a flow of air through a pad under the child and a fan above the child.   At the same time, a beacon light would shine from the device onto car windows displaying a warning to people nearby.

"Its just an addition to the car seat," Quave said.  "It's just an addition to keep them safe."

For Quave, the invention is a gamble.  She's invested her own money - a lot of it, she says, with no guarantee of ever seeing a dime of profit.   With her patent in hand, her next step is to find a manufacturer to build a prototype.

Another possible concern - some safety groups like "Car Seats For The Littles" warn against adding any non-regulated accessories to car seats because they're not part of the device's original crash testing and could impact the car seat's warranty.

But Quave says it's a gamble she's willing to take.

"If it saves one life and one parent from not having to go through that horrifying tragic experience then all the work I've done will be worth it."
 


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