It started as a typical mid-winter day in West Michigan.

The date: Feb. 21, 2022.

The snow had nearly melted. Local roads were clear and dry.

The sky was gray and slightly overcast.

Perhaps a foreshadowing of the events to come.

Kayleen Landaal, of Hamilton, Michigan, had just returned from a relaxing Florida vacation with her husband, Josh, and their family.

While settling back into after-trip normalcy, Landaal and her daughters—Maycie, 3, and Quinn, 1—hopped into their Ford 150 pickup and ventured out for a quick errand on the north side of Holland.

In a split second, they were involved in a head-on collision.

Their truck was totaled, with all the airbags deployed.

Shock set in.

Despite chest injuries from her seat belt and the impact with the air bag, Landaal’s only concern was for her daughters.

“My first thought was the girls,” she said. “In that moment, I didn’t think about my pain. I just thought, ‘Are the girls OK?’”

“I turned around and Maycie, who had been sleeping, all of a sudden started screaming and crying because the air bags came out and it was loud,” she said. “Quinn, rear-facing, was sleeping. She didn’t even make a peep the whole time. Neither of them had any injuries.”

A decision Landaal made three years prior, while pregnant with Maycie, likely played a role in the girls emerging unharmed.

After learning about the Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital education programs at one of her prenatal OB-GYN appointments, Landaal registered for every recommended pregnancy and newborn parenting course.

This included an infant car seat safety class.

“I was also working in a pediatric office at the time and saw all these experienced parents still having questions about car seats,” Landaal said. “I thought, ‘I’m definitely going to do that class.’ I went to the class while I was pregnant with Maycie.”

Improving access

In that initial class, Landaal received educational instruction and had a newborn car seat installed by a certified technician.

And she stayed connected to the program over the years.

The Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Injury Prevention Program has been serving West Michigan families since 2009. The program’s success relies on team members who are dedicated to the health and safety of local families.

Katelyn Jansheski, health and wellness coordinator at Zeeland Community Hospital, is one of those individuals.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University in child and family development, Jansheski spent years as a preschool teacher and later a preschool director.

That’s where her passion for child safety began.

“I’ve always just been one of those people that took safety seriously,” Jansheski said. “For example, if I see a child without a bike helmet, I want to check and make sure that they’re safe.”

Jansheski felt a nudge to develop her career in a new way.

She learned about injury prevention and investigated getting her certification.

“I reached out, took a certification test, passed and I was like, ‘I really like this,’” Jansheski said. “So, I got involved within my community.”

Volunteering introduced Jansheski to the injury prevention program at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

She soon earned a position in the program.

“I thought, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my career,’” she said.

Now a certified car seat technician for the injury prevention program on the lakeshore, Jansheski spends her time working with families at Zeeland Community Hospital. The team aims to educate health care professionals, community groups and families about topics such as bike, water, home, sleep and sports safety.

Car seat education is a large component.

“According to the CDC, an estimated 46 percent of car seats and booster seats are misused in a way that could reduce their ability to protect children,” Jansheski said. “My personal goal and a goal of this program is to provide resources and tools so this number goes down and more children have access to safe car seats.”

Also part of the program: access to discounted child safety seats.

“All of our families we see in Zeeland’s Family Birth Center or who take our infant car seat class are offered a program seat for $55,” Jansheski said. “We also have a referral program with different agencies, like the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and then that cost drops to $25.”

Protecting lives

Every vehicle and every car seat is manufactured differently. No two installations are alike.

“The car seat installation appointments are super essential because it takes the guesswork out of getting the proper fit,” Jansheski said. “In that initial appointment, we coach moms, dads, and grandparents on how to do a proper install. We don’t just do it for them, rather, we coach and empower them to do it.”

Car seat safety begins before a newborn leaves the hospital.

“When we initially help our first-time parents at the hospital before they’re discharged, our goal is to help them keep their newborns safe and to safely get them home from the hospital,” Jansheski said. “But we reinforce that we’re here through each stage of car seat use.

“So that means all the way until 10 to 12 years old. We want them to come back when their child needs to transition out of that infant seat to that next convertible car seat.”

That’s what Landaal did for her daughters.

She returned about once a year to have the car seats rechecked.

Just 11 months prior to the crash, the Landaals had Jansheski install new seats for both Maycie and Quinn.

After the crash, Landaal wasted no time scheduling an appointment to get the car seats replaced.

“I knew exactly who I needed to call,” Landaal said.

“Kayleen told me who she was,” Jansheski said. “She said, ‘We were in a car accident.’ Kayleen was amazed that her children did not have any injuries in the accident, and they were able to just walk away from it.”

The conversation solidified the importance of Jansheski’s role.

“The call was a nice surprise,” Jansheski said. “It made me feel like we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, like we’re doing our job right.”

Keeping kids safe

While her daughters suffered no injuries in the crash, that was not the case for Landaal.

“Once we got the girls out of the vehicle, it was almost like a sigh of relief came over me,” Landaal recalled. “I had to put Maycie down and my chest was just so sore from the seatbelt. I said, ‘Something is not right,’ and I couldn’t catch my breath.”

Once the girls were safely in the care of her husband, who had hurried to the scene, an ambulance transported Landaal to Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital.

Doctors treated her for abdominal and chest contusions. She soon returned home to recover.

“For a solid two weeks I had a hard time and my mom stayed with us to help with the kids,” she said. “The pain was worse than my C-section recovery. I still have very residual soreness depending on how I sleep or move.”

But amid it all, the experience has only strengthened her devotion to her daughters’ safety.

“It is so important for people to be educated,” Landaal said.

Accidents can happen at any time—and it’s important to plan ahead.

“Anything could happen,” she said. “It could be a deer, a tree could fall, anything.”

She’ll get no argument from Jansheski, who reiterates the importance of proactive education.

“Know your car. Know your car seat,” Jansheski said. “Please always read both manuals and contact us at any time during the different stages of car seat use. That is super important because each stage is so different.

“Nothing is more important than keeping kids safe.”