By Kim Diggs
Between the summers of 2005 and 2006, seven farmers died in eastern North Carolina due to heat stroke. The majority of farmers in North Carolina are undocumented citizens from Latin-American countries with limited access to health care, according to Practicing Anthropology.
Affected by the amount of labor-related deaths occurring in the area, Kevin King, AT, LAT, decided to spring into action.
By imparting his knowledge about proper hydration and heat stroke prevention on the North Carolina Department of Labor and the Agricultural Safety and Health Bureau, he was able to influence both organizations to create initiatives to educate farmers about proper hydration.
“The organization[s] [were] able to attack the problem through bilingual … bulletin posters, DVDs and other materials discussing heat stress and stroke symptoms and prevention methods,” King said. “This led to the Center for Worker Health at Wake Forest School of Medicine developing a Youth Health Educator program. This program was designed to provide youth-led intervention to protect youth and adult farmworkers from heat stress.”
The Youth Health Educator program was created to share information in English and Spanish about healthy living and proper hydration to youth farmers between the ages of 10 and 21. The program was created to be youth-led, allowing these children, teens and young adults to take ownership of their health and develop leadership and team building skills.
However, before crafting a program that would be effective, Wake Forest School of Medicine officials made a point to try to understand the severity of the issue. Because the work of farmers is not federally regulated, many youth farmers work 10- to 12-hour days during the summer and work for hours before and after school, as well as on the weekends during the school year, according to Practicing Anthropology.
In the height of the summer, temperatures can rise up to 105 degrees in North Carolina. With inadequate knowledge of heat stroke symptoms and dehydration prevention tactics, farmers were constantly at high risk.
Though King was working as a staff athletic trainer at North Carolina State University at the time, he felt it was his duty to share his knowledge to prevent additional heat-related deaths.
“Athletic trainers are health professionals with a highly specialized skillset,” King said. “We have an awesome responsibility due to our extensive education in various area, including the prevention of sudden catastrophic injury. I believe we will truly reach our potential when our varied citizens contribute their expertise and experiences to a singular goal of a better community.”