Today's News

Thursday, March 1, 2001

Orthopaedists build playground

By Laird Harrison

Kansas City orthopaedic surgeon Kim Templeton, MD, remembers the time a 5-year-old patient fell from a climbing structure. Only a few months before, Dr. Templeton had successfully replaced a cancerous section of the girl's humerus. Now the bone was shattered. "It took multiple surgeries and many months to put back together what had been working just fine," says Dr. Templeton.

Experiences like these led Dr. Templeton and scores of other orthopaedic surgeons to spend much of Tuesday building a new safe and accessible playground at Coyote Point Park in San Mateo. As part of its Prevent Injuries America! campaign, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has pledged to help build such a playground near the site of every annual meeting. It began fulfilling that promise last year with a new playground in Orlando, Florida.

For this year's project, buses from the Moscone Center took some 420 surgeons, family members, surgical supply company representatives and other volunteers to the park about 15 miles south of San Francisco. In a grove of eucalyptus trees, they found purple-shirted team captains waiting to instruct them in assembling structures, painting signs, planting flowers, and fencing off a parking lot.

As Phil Collins sang from a boom box, the first teams sprang into action at 9 a.m. By 10 a.m. they had already put the first structures in place and were mixing concrete for the footings. At noon a live jazz band made up of county workers arrived to serenade the workers as they ate a barbecued lunch. By 2:30 the last footings were being poured on time for a 3 p.m. ribbon-cutting.

The bright red, blue and yellow plastic and metal structures take the place of smaller wooden ones that were first installed in 1975 and had begun to rot. A surface of spongy rubber will replace the sand used in the original playground. "Sand can harden almost like concrete," explained Tom Mitchell of KaBOOM!, a nonprofit playground-building organization that led the Coyote Point along with San Mateo County Department of Parks and Recreation and United Cerebral Palsy.

Last year 509,650 children were injured at playgrounds, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, most of them by falling. Safety experts have focused on shock-absorbing surfaces as the single most important safety feature in playgrounds. Specially designed wood fiber surfaces work well and are less expensive, but rubber requires less maintenance.

Another advantage of the rubber surface is that people in wheelchairs can cross it. In addition to meeting strict new state and federal safety guidelines the Coyote Point playground is designed to exceed standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act for accessibility.

Children in wheelchairs will be able not only to approach the climbing structure, but also roll up its ramps. Most of the structure is low to the ground. That's an excellent idea, says artist Dan Keplinger, 28, of Baltimore who cannot walk because of brain injuries at birth and who came to the Coyote Point project to show his support for accessible playgrounds. When he visited playgrounds as a child, he says, "it was hard because I couldn't do much besides play in the sand." His mother, Lynda Ritter, remembers climbing monkey bars with him on her back, despite the danger, "just so he could experience that."

In addition to wheelchair ramps, the new playground features braille signs, a scent garden, a swing with a full-body harness and extra wide slides that can accommodate parents holding children. "They really involved us," says Teri Voorhes of Pacifica whose 2-year-old has Down's Syndrome. She was part of a committee of parents and children who met with the playground's designers.

Most handicapped-accessible play-grounds are at schools for the disabled. Jane Lefferdink of United Cerebral Palsy, insisted that this playground be where children who are not disabled also come. "Most kids with disabilities have siblings without disabilities," she said. "It's more healthy for the family if the children play together. And play often encourages children to do things they would not do in therapy, such as use both hands and climb, because they want to do what the other kids are doing."

The playground's accessibility was one of the features that attracted Mike Roper, MD, a Marion, Indiana orthopaedic surgeon, to join the project with his wife and stepson. "We deal with so many handicapped kids," he said. "I just thought it was an excellent idea."

San Francisco orthopaedic surgeon Serena Hu, MD, attended the design session. "You can't prevent all injuries, because of kids wanting to push their limits," says Dr. Hu, the mother of a 3-year-old. "I sort of figure at some point I'll be taking my kid to the emergency room. But as long as you can keep them from disaster, I think it will be acceptable to most parents." The AAOS includes a list of playground safety tips at its web site,

The need for playgrounds is sure to increase as new safety standards are enforced, says Mitchell of KaBOOM!. For example, the state of California requires that all play-grounds meet strict safety re-quirements by the year 2003. Since many California schools and parks can't afford the cost, they are condemning their playgrounds without replacing them. A state-of-the-art playground such the one at Coyote Point costs about $100,000.

Orthopaedic surgeons have been among the first to recognize the problem, says Mitchell. "We've had several orthopaedic surgeons contacting us from around the country wanting to build safer playgrounds."

Tom Woo, MD, an Indianapolis orthopaedic surgeon, says he was eager to participate because, "we need to show that we're doing good things for the world. Because of the changes in medicine, doctors are having to be more concerned about the business of medicine and that can make people think we're just trying to make money."

In addition to the AAOS, the following organizations supported the Coyote Point playground construction:

Stryker Corporation
DePuy Orthopaedics, a Johnson & Johnson Company
DePuy Acromed, a Johnson & Johnson Company
DePuy Ace, a Johnson & Johnson Company
Mitek Products
Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories
EBI Marketing/Biomet
Smith & Nephew
Kaiser Permanente
William Blair & Company
Medtronic Sofamor Danek
Wright Medical
Bledsoe Brace Systems
Beere Precision Medical Instruments, Inc.
National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses (NAON)
Paragon Medical, Inc.
Proper Service

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Last modified 01/March/2001 by IS