Deona Bien

Deona Bien, director of Women's and Children's Services for Trident Health and vice president of KidsandCars.org. Trident Health/Provided

Deona Bien remembers hearing voices calling out her daughter's temperature — 106 degrees — and a dangerously low blood oxygen level of 80 percent.

When she rushed into the trauma room of a Hawaii hospital that day in 2004, doctors were trying to intubate Bien's 1-year-old daughter Aslyn after she had been left in a car by her babysitter on an 82-degree day for close to an hour. As a nurse, Bien said she could clearly see how bad it was. But she said as a mother, she was in total shock.

On a mission about the dangers of hot cars

Aslyn Ryan died just days after her first birthday. Provided

"My beautiful baby struggled to survive for three days in a pediatric ICU," Bien said. "Her little organs began to shut down."

Aslyn suffered brain damage and died. Bien, holding a photo of Aslyn in an ornamental silver frame, spoke in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday in the Rayburn Office Building on Capitol Hill to recount her story. The press conference was held to support new legislation that aims to make children traveling in cars safer. 

The Hot Cars Act would require the U.S. secretary of transportation to issue a rule stipulating all new cars must have a system reminding the driver to check the back seat once the engine turns off. Like Bien's babysitter, many caregivers forget children in cars every year. 

Bien is the director of Women's and Children's Services for Trident Health in North Charleston, as well as vice president of KidsandCars.org, a website that tracks car-related child deaths. The group recorded 39 vehicular heatstroke deaths nationwide in 2016. Twelve deaths have been recorded in South Carolina since 1990.

During her remarks, Bien talked about a recent close call in Mount Pleasant. On May 21, a man was arrested after leaving a child in a locked car at Memorial Waterfront Park.

An off-duty Sullivan's Island firefighter noticed a child was slumped in a car seat inside the vehicle and called police. Officers broke one of the car's windows and put the child in a patrol car with the air conditioning on. The report stated the child was "really confused and disoriented."

Clark Carl Riggins, 39, saw police lights and returned to his car. He told police he left the child inside because the child did not want to come with him to track practice.

It was about 85 degrees outside, though presenters Wednesday said hot car deaths have been recorded at temperatures as low as 52 degrees. Bien said responsible parents may inadvertently leave their child in a car because of small changes in routine or other distractions

David Diamond, a brain researcher at the University of South Florida, spoke during the press conference as well. He explained that parents often go about their day not realizing they've made a devastating mistake.

"This is not about negligence. These are not bad parents," Diamond said. "This is about the frailty and flaws of the brain."

The proposed safety alert system would cue parents to check their back seats for a child. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat and sponsor of the bill, said General Motors already installed this feature in its 2018 Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevrolets and GMC vehicles.

Bien concluded her testimony by saying the technology may have changed her family's lives.

"I strongly believe that if there had been an alert in my sitter’s car, my beautiful baby girl would be here today," she said.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.