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Promoting Prevention: Dr. Joseph O’Neil is a no-holds barred advocate for injury prevention.

P R O F I L E - Dr. Joseph O’Neil

- Developmental Pediatrics, Riley Hospital for Children

- Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Indiana University School of Medicine


- Master’s of Public Health, Indiana University School of Medicine

- Pediatric Residency, Riley Hospital for Children

- Fellow in Cardiology, Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago

On a Christmas Eve in the mid 1990s, a young boy showed his dad’s gun to a friend.

“Let me see that,” the friend said. He grabbed the barrel, pulling the gun toward him.

The boy’s fingers slipped. One touched the trigger. The gun went off.

“There were two victims that day,” said Dr. Joseph O’Neil, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Riley Hospital. “The boy who died, and the boy who accidentally shot him.”

Dr. O’Neil has treated many children injured and disabled in accidents during his 15 years of practice. He is a no-holds-barred advocate for injury prevention who works tirelessly to educate parents and lawmakers in how to keep kids safe.

After completing his residency at Riley, Dr. O’Neil practiced in Chicago for 10 years. He had helped pass a trigger-lock law and made inroads into car-seat safety when he caught the attention of Dr. Marilyn Bull, founding director of developmental pediatrics at Riley. She persuaded him to come back to Riley in 2002 — and now he wouldn’t dream of being anywhere else.

“Riley has the largest developmental pediatrics group in the country, and probably the most aggressive,” he said with obvious pride. “We go all out for every one of our children. We leave no stone unturned.”

Riley is one of the few hospitals in the country that admits developmental pediatrics patients, he said. These children usually have genetic or neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism or delays in milestones such as walking or talking. Too many times, though, Dr. O’Neil’s patients come in as the result of injury.

Dr. O’Neil believes caregivers can do much to keep kids safe.

“Many injuries are preventable just by appropriate parental involvement,” he said. “Bike helmets. Storage of firearms, or removal of firearms from places where children live. Use of safety seats and belts in vehicles. Supervision of teen drivers. Studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that by making a written agreement with teen drivers, parents keep their children safer.”

He’s glad to see Riley expanding its injury research.

“Accidents are among the top 10 causes of death,” he said. “From a public health standpoint, to save money and increase the years of productive life, we need to look at preventing injuries.”