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Family urges sledders to wear helmets after 'terrifying' snow day crash

Each year, 20,000 kids visit the emergency room with sledding injuries.
/ Source: TODAY

Like thousands of children across the country, Jace Jackson, a 13-year-old in Flatwoods, Kentucky, bundled up on Tuesday to go sledding with friends.

The sixth grader woke up in an emergency room.

While barreling down a hill head-first, Jackson, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, crashed into a pile of chopped wood, resulting in a concussion and a compound fracture.

Jackson’s friends Jacob Parker and Rylan Adams watched the scary scene unfold.

“It was terrifying,” Parker, 10, told TODAY Parents. “He fell onto his back and he didn’t blink. His eyes were wide open. Then, he started shaking and passed out."

Jackson is expected to make a full recovery, but his guardian, Crystal Finley, is still shaken.

Jace Jackson was airlifted to an emergency room due to a sledding accident.
Jace Jackson was airlifted to an emergency room due to a sledding accident. Courtesy Crystal Finley

“I actually never thought about a helmet. I just made sure he was dressed for the weather,” Finley, 40, told TODAY Parents. “I just wanted him to have a fun day.”

Finley isn’t alone in believing sledding is an innocuous activity, says Dr. Erica Michiels, associate medical director for the emergency department at at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“We don’t bat an eye about putting a helmet on our kids to go snowboarding, but wearing helmets while sledding has been slower to take off,” Michiels told TODAY Parents.

With 20,000 kids visiting the emergency room with injuries sustained from sledding, that needs to change.

“A helmet goes a long way to prevent the most serious injuries that we see from sledding,” Michiels said. “Protecting the brain is the most important thing.”

If you don’t have a helmet designed for winter sports, a well-fitted bike helmet will do the trick, Michiels noted.

Michiels stressed the importance of scanning the area for fences, rocks, parked cars and bodies of water. She also said to avoid wearing long scarves that could get caught and cause neck injury. Children should always sit face-forward on their sleds and follow the "one kid per sled" rule.

“When kids sled, they achieve speeds that are as fast or faster then when they’re biking. But you can’t steer a sled, you can’’t control a sled, and that makes it incredibly dangerous," she explained. “I've seen kids with lacerated spleens and kids who have lost a kidney because the kidney was so injured from the blunt trauma. We’ve sent multiple children to the intensive care unit this year."

And some don't survive. Earlier this week, a 4-year-old boy in Canada was killed after his sled was struck by a pickup truck. Last month, a 50-year-old Illinois woman died from injuries sustained after she veered off course and crashed into a tree.

Finley is counting her blessings that her Jackson is home safe and sound.

"Parents need to make sure their kids wear helmets," she said. "We just got lucky."