Last February, 11-year-old Megan Isakson was sledding down a hill outside her home in Fountain City, Wisconsin, when she slammed into a picnic table. "I started crying and screaming for help," said Megan, now 12. "I was trying to get up, but I couldn't."
Megan's accident was so severe that she lost a kidney and half her spleen, as well as puncturing a lung. "I never thought sledding would cause so many injuries," she said.
And she's not alone: Every year, 20,000 children are sent to emergency rooms with sledding injuries. And multimillion-dollar lawsuits sometimes follow: The city of Omaha, Nebraska, paid $2 million, and Sioux City, Iowa, was hit with a bill for $2.7 million. Now towns from New Jersey to Indiana are banning sledding.
Dubuque, Iowa, made the move just this month. "Nobody wants to be a killjoy that says, 'Don't go sledding and have fun in the wintertime,'" said Kevin Lynch of the Dubuque City Council. "But the fact is, we live in a society where anyone can file a lawsuit."
But even safety experts think such measures are extreme. Observing TODAY national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen take a test sledding run, Deborah Hersman, president of the National Safety Council, offered simple safety tips.
Hersman's first tip pertained to the hill where you sled. "Location, location, location: Not too steep and no obstructions at the bottom," she advised. "No trees, no fences and no cross traffic."
Hersman also pointed to mistakes Rossen made during his sled run. "You went down headfirst so you really didn't have any ability to steer," she pointed out. "If you're going to go down headfirst, you want a sled that has some ability to steer or control it when you go down."
Rossen's second mistake: "You weren't wearing a helmet," Hersman said. "And we know that the number one cause of serious injuries are head injuries, and so a helmet is your best protection."
Megan Isakson was not wearing a helmet when she was injured. Now, she said, "I do know a lot more about safety. That's one of the good things that happened because of my accident."
Experts also say you should never go sledding alone. Megan was alone when she had her accident and had to scream for help until a friend arrived.
A final tip: Do not wear dangling scarves while sledding that could get stuck on the sled and cause strangulation.