Vancouver boy's window fall turned into children's safety book

Thomas Keen Cunningham fell from second-story window in 2010

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter



PORTLAND — If the Keen Cunninghams had a yard made out of peanut butter, 3-year-old Thomas would have gotten sticky and gooey when he fell out of the family’s second-story window.

But that’s not real.

If Thomas had wings, he could have flown instead of landing on the concrete beneath the window.

But that’s not real.

And if Thomas had bubble pajamas he could float and everything he touched would feel soft. Maybe then, his skull wouldn’t have cracked when he hit the ground.

Window safety

Every year, about 3,300 children 6 years old and younger are injured after falling from a window. Jan Berichon, a health educator at Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in Portland, offered these tips for preventing falls:

• Move toys, furniture and anything else a child may climb away from windows.

• Educate children about playing away from windows. Screens are meant to keep bugs out, but don’t keep kids in.

• Keep windows closed and locked when they’re not being used for ventilation.

• Install window stops that allow windows to open only 4 inches. The stops prevent kids from opening windows more but have release buttons for emergencies.

• If 4 inches of ventilation isn’t enough, install window guards that allow windows to open fully. They can be removed quickly in emergencies.

• Don’t install or unlock safety devices in front of children to prevent them from learning how to bypass the devices.

• For more information about safety devices and preventing window falls, visit this Legacy Health website.

But that’s not real either.

The scenarios are all part of Becca Keen Cunningham’s new children’s book, “If Kids Could Float: A Window Fall Prevention Story.” Becca and Thomas’ twin brother, Zane, came up with the “if only” scenarios as they struggled to understand how and why Thomas tumbled from that window at their Cascade Park home in October 2010.

The family was cautious. They used outlet covers and kept cabinets locked. They installed a barrier to prevent the young boys from falling off the deck. And they explained to Thomas, Zane and their sister Bailey, then 6, that screens keep bugs out but don’t keep kids in.

But during nap time that day, Thomas made his way to the window and tumbled out, landing on the concrete patio below. Becca and her husband, Jason Keen Cunningham, a firefighter and EMT with Portland Fire & Rescue, heard moans and found Thomas semiconscious, his skull fractured.

“It took him about a year of very hard work to get his recovery,” Becca said. “For the whole family, we’re still healing.”

Thomas, now 7, has recovered better than anyone expected.

Buy the book

Becca Keen Cunningham’s book, “If Kids Could Float: A Window Fall Prevention Story,” is available for purchase in hard copy and e-book through AuthorHouse, and Amazon.

Copies can also be purchased from Keen Cunningham, beccakeen@hotmail...

All profits will go toward window fall prevention.

“With the significant amount of brain damage he sustained, he wasn’t supposed to be this functional,” Jason said.

“My whole left side was paralyzed,” Thomas said.

Through more than a year of physical, occupational and speech therapy, Thomas regained feeling and control of the left side of his body. He still lacks some sensation in his left hand and on the left side of his face.

Thomas is testing above average in school and would probably be a gifted athlete, but he can’t play contact sports that would put him at risk for head injury, Jason said. Instead, Thomas plays tennis and the family is trying to generate interest in a boys volleyball league in Vancouver.

Thomas’ recovery has enabled the Keen Cunninghams to spread the word about window safety and fall prevention. They know other families whose children haven’t fared as well.

Every year, more than 3,300 children 6 years old and younger are injured from window falls. About 30 children in Oregon, and a few kids in Clark County, are injured each year.

Once Thomas was well on his way to recovery, Becca followed her instinct to help prevent more falls.

She wrote her book from the perspective of Zane. Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel sponsored a portion of the publishing of the book, which was illustrated by Charlie Donkin. Profits from book sales will go toward window fall prevention.

In celebration of the book’s release and Window Safety Week, Becca and her family are hosting book readings. On Wednesday, they returned to Randall Children’s Hospital, where Thomas received treatment after his accident, to share their story with other children and their parents and to promote the use of window safety devices.

“I basically wanted to take it back. I wanted to go back and fix it,” Becca said of Thomas’ accident. “Knowing that wasn’t possible, this was the next best thing.”