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How a Hole in the Wall Can Save a Child's Life

Lois K. Lee, MD, MPH, FAAP
July 6, 2017

The dresser. To most adults, this looks simply like what it is -- a piece of furniture used to store clothing.  Toddlers, however, may see something entirely different. Often, they quickly discover inviting “steps” – otherwise known as drawers – that sometimes stick out, providing a perfect path to climb up to the toys, trinkets and adventure that appears to await them on top.

If a dresser, bookcase or other piece of furniture is not secured to the wall and a child climbs up on it, the furniture is very likely to fall on the child – often with tragic consequences.  This is what happened to 3-year-old Meghan Agnes Beck, who died of suffocation when a 150-pound dresser toppled onto her 28-pound body one morning as her family was sleeping.

Devastated by her daughter’s 2004 death, Meghan’s mother created a foundation that helps increase awareness about the dangers of tall furniture not secured to the wall presents to children. Sadly, though, every 30 minutes a child in the U.S. is injured from a TV or furniture tip-over, resulting in an average of 33,000 emergency department visits every year. A child dies from injuries secondary to furniture tip-over roughly every two weeks.

Just a few months ago, a chilling video captured by a home security camera of a two-year-old boy trapped under a dresser that fell on him went viral after his twin brother somehow managed to push the dresser off. But children fortunate enough to survive a furniture tip-over may still be seriously injured.

In the mid-1980’s, the vaccine for HIB was released and thirty years later we no longer see this disease. Because of the effectiveness of this vaccine my younger partners only know of HIB meningitis through textbooks (and some of my anecdotes).

This is the recurring story of vaccine preventable diseases.

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Some injuries
Some injuries, especially to internal organs, may not be apparent immediately after the injury, so a child may potentially become very ill before a caregiver realizes the child is hurt."

When furniture falls on a child, injuries to the head can lead to a serious brain injury.  If the furniture falls on other body parts of the child, it can lead to bleeding of the internal organs or broken bones. I still remember caring for a 3-year-old boy who tried to climb on a dresser, which then fell over on top of him. The incident caused him to break the large femur bone in his leg, but he was lucky the dresser didn’t crush his skull.

Some injuries, especially to internal organs, may not be apparent immediately after the injury, so a child may potentially become very ill before a caregiver realizes the child is hurt. Because of this, it’s important children be checked out by their pediatrician or in the emergency room if furniture has fallen on them.

Injuries can occur not just from dressers that tip over, but also if a heavy object on top of the dresser falls on the child.  Large, heavy televisions on the top of a dresser are especially common in bedrooms. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), a cathode ray tube television (the old boxy type of TV) can fall with the force of up to 12,000 pounds, and for flat screen TVs, the impact is up to 2,000 pounds.  A 36-inch cathode ray tube TV falling three feet has the same momentum as a one year old child falling from a 10-story building.


"The good news is that furniture and TV tip over incidents are 100 percent preventable."

The good news is that furniture and TV tip over incidents are 100 percent preventable. Some simple, low-cost steps parents and caregivers can take to keep children safe:

  • Secure dressers to the wall with furniture straps and TVs to dressers. These typically cost just a few dollars are take just a few minutes to install.  As Meghan Agnes Beck's mother often repeats: a hole in the wall can be fixed, but a hole in your heart from a preventable furniture tip-over tragedy lasts forever.
  • Don't place large, heavy objects such as televisions on the top of a dresser.
  • Install stops on dresser drawers to prevent them from being pulled out by the child so they can climb on them.  Multiple open drawers also shift the weight of the dresser to the front, making it more prone to falling forward.
  • Keep heavier items on the lower drawers or shelves.
  • Avoid placing toys, remote controls, or other items in places where kids may want to climb up to reach them.
  • Mount flat screen TVs to the wall to decrease the chance it may fall off.
  • If you have a heavier cathode ray tube TV, don't place it on a dresser.  Instead put it on a low, stable piece of furniture that can securely support the TV.
  • Recycle old cathode ray tube TVs if you aren't using them.

Children will always see the world around them differently than we do.  Their intense sense of wonder and adventure is what helps their young minds develop.  As pediatricians, it's our job to remind parents of this, and help keep their homes safe places for kids to explore.


​​​Ab​out the ​​Author

Lois Lee, MD, MPH, FAAP, is an executive committee member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention and also a member of the AAP Committee on Pediatric Emergency Medicine.  She is a staff attending physician in pediatric emergency medicine at Boston Children's Hospital and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School, with research interests in the areas of pediatric injury prevention and trauma care. 



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Additional Information

Preventing Furniture and TV Tip-Overs (HealthyChildren.org)

Anchor It! (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission)

Television-Related Injuries to Children in the United States, 1990–2011 (Pediatrics)

Meghan's Hope Foundation

Safe Kids Worldwide