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Scalding of toddler shows dangers of water that’s too hot

Two-year-old Aubrey Jones suffered severe burns to her hands when a baby sitter washed them in scalding water two months ago.

The Riverside toddler underwent skin grafts in early February and will require more grafts as she grows bigger over the years.

Aubrey’s hands will also bear scars for life, but doctors are hopeful movement in her fingers will be unimpeded.

Her mother this week shared the details of what happened to her daughter in the hope that other children will be spared the agony Aubrey has suffered from second- and third-degree burns. The scalding occurred Jan. 22 after the child threw up on her hands and a 17-year-old baby sitter – an acquaintance of the toddler’s father – washed them in dangerously overheated water, authorities confirmed.

“When the police investigated, they determined that the hot water, after three seconds, was coming out at 148 degrees,” said Michele Halbert, Aubrey’s mother.

Medical and consumer safety experts say that temperature was 28 degrees hotter than what is recommended for residential hot water tanks, which should be set at 120 degrees or less.

For children 4 years of age and younger, scald burns are one of the most common types of burns they experience because their skin is thinner and more susceptible to heat, according to officials at Shriners Hospital for Children in Cincinnati, where Aubrey has been taken several times for treatment.

“All ages can be burned in 30 seconds by a flowing liquid that is at 130 degrees. At 140 degrees, it takes only five seconds and at 160 degrees, it takes only one second,” said Mashayla Colwell, Shriners spokeswoman. “For children under the age of 5, these temperatures cause a burn in half the time.”

Aubrey was flown to Shriners Hospital, which specializes in pediatric burn treatment, after she was initially taken to Women & Children’s Hospital in Buffalo. Halbert said her daughter suffered the burns from tap water in a bathroom sink at the East Side home of the baby sitter’s mother.

“The baby sitter told police he washed her hands after she threw up on them. He said that Aubrey said, ‘it’s hot.’ An hour later, he noticed her hands were red. He texted his sister to see if Aubrey had a skin problem. They told her Aubrey had dry skin. The brother said he washed her hands again, thinking she got into something. He told the detective that he made sure it was cooler,” Halbert said, explaining that the sister is the girlfriend of Aubrey’s father.

A police investigation determined there was no criminal intent and charges were not brought against the adolescent baby sitter, according to Halbert.

A companion investigation by Erie County Child Protective Services is pending, but that too is unlikely to end in charges based on what the CPS investigator has told Halbert, the mother added.

Buffalo police have declined to comment, explaining that privacy rules bar them from revealing the results of their investigation.

Halbert, who has two other children, ages 17 and 9, said she intends to file a civil lawsuit against the owner of the house where the incident occurred and the manufacturer of the hot water tank.

She also is seeking full custody of her daughter.

“I’ve gone to Family Court for full custody, and her father is not objecting,” Halbert said. “We didn’t have a formal custody agreement before this happened.”

As for Aubrey, she is now back at Shriners Hospital because of an infection to her left thigh where a swath of skin was harvested for the grafts, Halbert said. And despite the setback, the child is now wearing compression gloves and it appears the grafts “have taken well,” the mother said.

Colwell, from Shriners, provided a list of other safety precautions adults can take to protect children from burns:

• When filling a tub, run cold water and mix in warmer water.

• Check water temperatures with your hand before placing a child in it. If it’s too hot for an adult, it is too hot for a child.

• Face children away from the faucet.

• Never leave children unsupervised.

• Keep hot drinks away from the edge of tables and counters.

• Place pots and pans on the back burner with handles turned away from the edge of the stove.

• Don’t set anything hot on tabletops within reach of young children who can pull them down and keep electrical appliance cords away from counter edges.

Another step that can be taken, officials suggested, is the installation of a scald-protection valve, which halts the flow of overheated water.