After her 3-year-old died in a furniture tip-over accident, mom makes desperate plea to parents
"I wasn't ready to accept it, I'm still not..."
(ABC News) – On the evening of Dec. 18, 2004, 3-year-old Meghan Beck was enjoying the film, “Frosty the Snowman” before heading to bed. The toddler was looking forward to Christmas and was set to decorate cookies the following day with her twin brother, Ryan and older brother, Kyle.
On that night in 2004, Amato attended a neighborhood party with her son, Kyle. She returned home and tucked in Meghan and Ryan, who slept in separate rooms.
At 10:00 p.m. Amato went to sleep, though was woken by Meghan around 3:30 a.m.
“She had a stinky diaper [and would say], ‘Mommy I’m a stinky girl,'” Amato recalled. “I changed her diaper and said, ‘It’s not time to get up yet.’ That was the last time I saw her alive.”
That morning, Amato says she slept later than usual –a rare occasion. When she woke up at 8 a.m., her husband was yelling her name. His tone of voice made Amato realize something was wrong.
“I literally flew [to the bedroom],” she said. “I think my feet hit the ground three times.”
Amato rushed to her daughter’s side and administered CPR. She remembers it had been more than six minutes, which is the window when irreversible brain damage can occur. Amato is CPR-certified.
“I said, ‘Meggie, Come back to Mommy only if you can be Meggie,'” Amato says she told Meghan while waiting for paramedics.
An ambulance arrived as well as several neighbors with medical backgrounds, including an emergency room physician.
Amato followed the ambulence to the local hospital where she was informed that Meghan was being airlifted to the trauma ward at UMass Memorial.
“I knew in my heart she was gone,” Amato said. “I wasn’t ready to accept it, I’m still not … but you always hold onto that hope.”
An EMT drove Amato and her husband to UMass. It was there where they learned Meghan had died from suffocation.
“I remember hanging my head and taking a deep breath. I remember saying, can I see her?” Amato said, adding that nurses allowed her to hold Meghan in a blanket.
The night she lost Meghan, Amato sat down and wrote an email to her loved ones, informing them of her child’s sudden death and urging them to bolt their dressers to the wall.
With Amato’s blessing, people began sharing Meghan’s photo on a flyer to alert parents of the dangers behind furniture tip-overs. The cause was soon named “Meghan’s Hope.” Amato launched a guest book that within days, had over 1,000 comments from family, friends and nurses who cared for Meghan in the hospital.
Amato also wrote a letter to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) about her devastating experience-turned-mission to alert other families.
“It’s not in any parenting magazine, it wasn’t taught to me when I took a childcare class. Something was wrong.”
In its 2019 report on furniture, television and appliance tip-over injuries and fatalities, the CPSC revealed that between 2000 and 2018, there were 556 fatalities that were caused by tip-overs. Of those reported deaths, 83% (459) involved kids with the victims ages being 1 month to 14 years. Fourteen percent involved seniors, victims ages 60 years or older.
Ages 1-4 years were the age majority of tip-over injuries and fatalities involving children. Furniture like dressers, bookshelves, drawers, TV stands and desks, were found to be the main cause of both injuries and deaths, with 60% of deaths involving furniture (some had both furniture and a TV tip-over). As for injuries, 76% involved furniture.
The main causes of tip-over accidents, according to the CPSC, are either unknown or the child was climbing onto the furniture. When drawers are open, furniture becomes front and top heavy, easily tipping over with some pressure or weight.
Emily Samuel, program director at the nonprofit child safety organization Safe Kids Wordwide, told “GMA” that furniture tip-overs are especially relevant now amid the pandemic and stay-at-home orders.
“Homes are no longer just place to live. It’s [now] our home offices and where our kids play,” Samuel said. “It’s a combination of a young child at home and parents and caregivers balancing several priorities of homework, virtual learning and that could lead to gaps in supervision. There’s a potential there for an increased number of injuries in the home.”
Parents should be one step ahead, Samuel suggested, and put safety devices in place as soon as your baby rolls over. Don’t wait until they crawl or walk, she said.
“Anytime we hear about a child or a family who has been affected by a preventable injury, it’s so heartbreaking for us,” she said. “And that’s why we align our mission focused on educating and raising awareness to prevent these tragedies from happening.”
At 3 years old, Meghan was 28 pounds. Her dresser stood 30 inches tall at 150 pounds, and Amato described it as an expensive piece of nursery furniture that she never imagined would’ve fallen over.
Amato, who now works with the CPSC on the government-funded campaign, Anchor It!, said Meghan’s dresser would technically be compliant with today’s voluntary safety standard based on height, yet it still tipped over and killed her.
“Anchoring right now is the only way to prevent a tip-over, and I would say properly anchoring is the only way,” Amato explained, adding that not all furniture include anchors or warnings that it can tip, and injure or kill children.
On Sept. 17, 2019, the STURDY Act (Stop Tip-Overs of Unstable Risky Dressers on Youth), passed through the U.S. House and was referred to the Senate committee on science, commerce, and transportation.
The bill, which Amato is fighting to be passed, proposes the CPSC issue a mandatory furniture safety standard within one year of it’s enactment.
It would warrant:
• Testing on all clothing storage units, regardless of height
• Require testing to simulate the weight of a child 72 months of age
• Require testing that accounts for the way children interact with furniture in the real world
• Testing that would include loaded drawers and multiple open drawers–accounting for the impact of carpeting on stability, and simulating the dynamic forces a climbing child would cause
• Mandate strong warning requirements and labels
• Anchoring is the first line of defense, and the consumer should have to take final steps to make the product safe
Since Meghan’s death, Amato became a founding member of the group, Parents Against Tip-Overs, in which the members are also parents of young children who have lost their lives from a furniture tip-over incident.
Their goal is to educate the public on how a child can be severely injured or killed by falling furniture, televisions and appliances.
The group first met in Washington, D.C., in November 2018, to talk with CPSC commissioners.
“The moms and dads, when we got together for the first time … it was incredibly emotional,” Amato said. “We said, ‘Close your eyes and think of what our kids would say.’ Our kids are all up there together looking down on us [saying], ‘I’m so proud of you mommy and daddy for trying to save all these kids.”
“I do hope that’s what it is … they’re proud of mom and dad for trying to make sure this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”
On the Anchor It! website, the CPSC says anchoring kits are sold online and in-stores for as low as $5 and people can install themselves. The organization gives step-by-step instructions showing how to anchor furniture to drywall, or a brick wall to prevent tip-overs.
CPSC tips to remember:
• Use sturdy furniture designed to hold TVs, such as television stands or media centers
• Mount flat-screen TVs to the wall or furniture to prevent them from falling over
• Secure TVs even if they are not wall-mounted with an anti-tip device
• Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to secure TVs properly
• Secure top-heavy furniture with anti-tip devices, whether it’s old or new
• Remove items that might tempt kids to climb, such as toys and remote controls, from the top of TV and furniture
Samuel of Safe Kids said to also read instructions on the anchor straps or anti-tip devices like mounts of brackets on how install securely. Make sure the device is appropriate for the item you are anchoring.
You can find a complete list of furniture anchors and where to get them at www.meghanshope.org
If you’ve experienced a tip-over, a near-miss, or any other product hazard, report it at www.saferproducts.gov. It’s the best way to ensure the CPSC has tip-over data as well as information about potentially dangerous or deadly products (like unstable dressers), and is where many recalls are born, Amato said.