Phoenix heat worsens and 10-year-old boy pays the price

Phoenix heat worsens and 10-year-old boy pays the price

Phoenix heat worsens and 10-year-old boy pays the price

Opinion: Visitors to Arizona have long been susceptible to heat-related injuries and deaths. Climate change and drought are worsening the danger for all of us.


On Tuesday, a family visiting from out of state entered the Mormon trail and hiked about a mile to South Mountain Park.

According to media reports, they started around mid-morning and went deep into one of the country’s largest municipal parks.

After spending hours in the sun, a 10-year-old boy who was part of that group died from a “heat-related” illness. The boy was taken out by helicopter and taken by ground ambulance to the hospital.

He died later that night.

Heat deaths are a perennial tragedy in Phoenix

We see this same scenario every year in Arizona.

Outsiders trek into our mountain preserves without understanding how vulnerable they are to the Valley’s summer heat.

I have written about this many times over several decades.

They often come from colder climates and are not acclimated to hot, dry conditions.

On Tuesday, the temperature rose to 113 degrees, meaning most Arizonans knew to avoid the outdoors and its killer sun during the daylight hours between morning and evening.

But an Arizona trail on a summer morning is a temptation for the uninitiated who know nothing about heat exposure and how too much sun can fatally damage the body’s vital organs.

How heat stroke shuts down the body

The deadly metric here is 104 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Mayo Clinic.

When the body reaches such high temperatures, it redirects blood flow to the skin in an attempt to cool itself, Ollie Jay, a professor of heat and health at the University of Sydney, told the Associated Press.

The bypass carries blood and oxygen away from the stomach and intestines, allowing toxins in and around the gut to filter into the circulatory system, he explained.

“This triggers a cascade of effects: blood clots in the body, multiple organ failure and, ultimately, death.”

Heat stroke attacks the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles, according to the Mayo Clinic.

There’s a reason everything is deserted.

Visitors to Arizona often don’t know this, nor have they experienced, as many of us desert dwellers have, the early symptoms of sun overexposure:

Nausea, confusion, rapid breathing, flushed skin, which if not addressed with shade and water and lowering body temperature can turn into something worse: vomiting, delirium, rapid pulse.

Drive a mile or two in the summer in any of our Valley communities and you’ll see our knowledge on display.

Our playgrounds are completely empty. Under the blue sky and the sun, they shine, but there is no child or parent to be seen.

Our baseball fields are empty and our hiking trails are almost completely deserted.

We must warn our foreign guests

All of us, as individuals and as a community, have a responsibility to warn newcomers and visitors about the summer heat.

Our hotels and resorts must constantly remind their guests of the danger. Arizonans should warn their out-of-state friends and family and make sure they do not engage in dangerous activities.

At the Mormon Trailhead, there are giant signs located right next to the parking lot warning hikers about how heat can kill, with tips on how to stay safe.

As an emergency physician: I have seen how the heat of the Phoenix kills.

But it is not only outsiders who are vulnerable.

Other solar scenarios that end in death are also perennial in Arizona, as in the case of the Phoenician native who believes himself to be so well acclimated to the heat that he can tempt triple-digit temperatures in broad daylight.

Phoenix residents also face increasing risk

I did this once on June 27, 1990. It was the day after the hottest day in Phoenix history, when temperatures reached 122 degrees.

I climbed what is now called Piestewa Peak. I didn’t get heat stroke, but I learned something. It was a stupid thing to do.

Every year, like the outsiders, there are Phoenicians who believe they are immune to the desert heat. And some take the risk, like me. Some die. I have written that story, too.

Last year, 645 people died from heat-related causes in Maricopa County, according to the county Department of Public Health.

Sixty-five percent of those deaths were substance-related, according to county health reports.

Eighty percent of those who died were Maricopa County residents.

With climate change and generational drought, things are likely to get worse in the future.

So understand that there is no greater antidote to the deadly heat of summer than knowledge.

The knowledge not to tempt him.

Phil Boas is an editorial columnist for The Arizona Republic. Email him at [email protected].