Alyssa Barney's life was saved by a helmet, which was bought by her parents just 10 minutes before her Valentine's Day ATV accident. The Mesa 11-year-old was riding an all-terrain vehicle on the sand dunes with her family outside of Yuma when she crashed. Her 7-year-old sister, Brooklyn, was riding behind her on her own ATV and said it looked like Alyssa hit a bump driving down a hill that caused the ATV to flip over.
Alyssa Barney's life was saved by a helmet, which was bought by her parents just 10 minutes before her Valentine's Day accident.
The Mesa 11-year-old was riding an all-terrain vehicle on the sand dunes with her family outside of Yuma when she crashed.
Her 7-year-old sister, Brooklyn, was riding behind her on her own ATV and said it looked like Alyssa hit a bump driving down a hill that caused the ATV to flip over.
Alyssa's mom, Jan Barney, said she was probably driving too fast. "She's kind of a speed demon," Barney said.
Paramedics on site helped stabilize Alyssa, and an ambulance soon took her to the hospital.
Alyssa was having seizures, screaming and flailing about, all signs of a head injury.
After being in the Yuma Regional Medical Center's emergency room for seven hours, and a number of tests, she was flown to Phoenix Children's Hospital, where she spent another day. Alyssa had a concussion.
"Doctors told us she's really lucky that she was wearing a helmet, or we would be in the morgue right now," Jan Barney said. "We know a helmet saved her life."
Alyssa's story is a common one as the number of injuries and even deaths have risen over the past six years.
More than 1,200 children in Arizona were hospitalized in 2007 for ATV-related injuries. Nine children died in 2007 while riding ATVs, and six of those children were not wearing helmets, said Erin Kuroiwa, a child passenger safety coordinator at Phoenix Children's Hospital's Injury Prevention Center. The statistics from 2007 are the latest available.
"We're seeing some pretty rough injuries for the kids that make it, such as head injuries and broken bones," Kuroiwa said. "The thing we worry about the most is head and brain injuries, because those are more difficult to come back from."
From 2003 to 2008, there's been an 89 percent increase in death among all age groups, Kuroiwa said.
Funeral services were recently held for Logan Walters, a Gilbert 13-year-old who was entering the eighth grade at Greenfield Junior High School.
Logan died Aug. 17 from head injuries sustained after an ATV accident Aug. 1 near Apache Junction. Logan had brain injuries and had been in a coma at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix since the accident.
According to Logan's Facebook page, he was wearing protective gear. Logan's family could not be reached for comment.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 16 not be allowed to operate ATVs.
However, since this is not a reality for many families, following safety rules and wearing protective gear is the best way to decrease the number of injuries and deaths among children riding ATVs.
A helmet is the most important safety gear. Wearing a helmet can reduce the chance of death in a crash by 42 percent, Kuroiwa said.
Goggles, long-sleeved shirts, gloves, pants and over-the-ankle boots are also recommended to wear while riding.
Families are also encouraged to take an ATV rider safety course, Kuroiwa said.
"Take into consideration the risk of the ATV," she said. "It's not a toy."
Those words are all too real for the Barney family. Weeks after Alyssa's ATV crash, she was irritable and quick to get angry, all because of her head injury. Alyssa had to stop taking dance and gymnastics for a month.
Alyssa's family realizes how lucky they are. Alyssa's health is back to normal, and she has no lasting head injuries.
"We're lucky to have her," Jan Barney said. "It was a good experience for us to learn from."
Alyssa continues dancing and will be dancing with her Higher Ground Dance group before an Arizona Diamondbacks game on Friday.
However, she has not driven an ATV since her accident.
"I'm afraid to drive now," said Alyssa, a sixth-grader at Franklin East Elementary School in Mesa. "I always tell my friends and cousins now to wear helmets, to just be careful and to slow down."
The accident has also changed the rules in the Barney family, which has four ATVs and five children.
"We are sticklers for helmets now, all the time," Jan Barney said. "And we're not letting the kids drive (ATVs) until they're teenagers."
Although the family regularly went out and drove their quads, Jan Barney said she's not sure when they'll all go out together and ride ATVs again. Since the accident, her son's friend crashed and broke his arm, and her 17-year-old son, Kade, burned his arm on an ATV.
"Wear a helmet, slow down, and be aware of what's around you because your life could change in an instant," Jan Barney said. "I would hate for that to happen to any other family."
"I hope this helps somebody," she said. "If one parent reads this and puts a helmet on their child, we're good."