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It's Time We Talk About The Dark Side Of Mango Season

Alexander Gonzalez

One of the joys of living in South Florida around this otherwise horrid time of year is mango season. It's the juicy, refreshing antidote to looming clouds and the perennial beads of sweat that appear on your forehead everytime you walk out the front door.

But there is a dark side to mango season. WLRN's Danny Rivero sat down with Dr. Gabriel Ruiz, an assistant professor of surgery at University of Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital at the Ryder Trauma Center to talk about it:


WLRN: I came here to talk to you about mango season. Are there any particular things that only happen this time of year?

RUIZ: During this season we get an uptick in the amount of patients that have falls, or have actually accidents related to the mango trees, and the procurement of the fruit from the trees.

What kind of accidents do they have with the procurement of the trees? Is it always falls?

Typically it is falls. Remember that these trees are 30 feet tall. They go actually to 100 feet. So during the season, which is June to the end of August, the trees are ripe with fruit, so people use ladders and multiple instruments to get the fruits. And they either fall from the ladders or they get electrocuted with the powerlines. And sometimes a combination of both mechanisms.

In the peak of the season, we have two or three patients a week that have falls or electrocution due to reaching for the fruits on the mango trees. I’d say it’s actually a common thing, and it’s actually an inside joke because the summer is coming and we know the mango tree-related injuries, which is how we call them, are going to start coming again.

 Can you tell me a little about how someone would get electrocuted from the powerlines? Is it just not seeing the lines that are there?

Credit Daniel Rivero / WLRN
Dr. Gabriel Ruiz of University of Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital says to be careful when picking mangoes.

What happens is a combination of things. The canopy of the tree is very dense. As I said the trees are about 30 feet tall or higher. The lines by law are about thirteen to fifteen feet, so the trees typically grow through the lines. And it’s difficult to see the lines from beneath the tree when you’re trying to handle the fruits and take the fruit down.

So they use metallic instruments to get the fruit down and touch powerlines. And they might be on top of a ladder, so there’s a combination of both mechanisms. They get electrocuted and fall.

And what kind of injuries have you seen from those kind of incidents?

Most of the injuries -- 56 to 58% of the injuries are traumatic brain injuries. That’s fractures of the skull and internal bleeding inside the skull. And they can be very serious.

Have you guys already seen some cases like that so far this mango season?

We start seeing them in late April. There are some mango trees that start having the fruit ready to be picked up in late April. And we’ll continue seeing them through the end of October.

Have there been fatalities from these kinds of injuries?

What we call the LD 50--which is the lethal dose--on a fall is about 48 feet. That means that if somebody falls from a four-story building, about fifty percent of them will die. So when it comes to falling from a ladder while reaching for a mango tree, we have had fatalities. And it's not only traumatic brain injury, we have extremity fractures, pelvic fractures, and we also have people who have been rendered paralyzed because of the falls.

It's very dangerous, and it carries a huge load of morbidity and mortality.

Do you have any advice, any safety tips you might be able to share with people?

So first of all, be sure that there are no power lines in the vicinity of the trees. Florida Power and Light actually helps trimming the trees around the power lines and giving people advice on when it’s safe or not to reach for this fruit.

The second thing is try to do it with help. If you still want the fruit, be sure that someone is helping you. Be sure the person that goes up the ladder is a healthy person with good reflexes. Typically what we see is that older people are affected by these type of mechanism, because they don’t have the balance and reflexes of younger folks.

And another one is actually from FPL. On younger trees, you can actually prune the tree by removing the upper branches, so the tree gets large but it doesn’t go up too high. It still gives the same amount of fruit, but you can take it easily without risking your life.

And be careful. Sometimes it’s better to leave the fruit than to spend a few months in the hospital.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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