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SIDS: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare


It's every parent's worst nightmare. All of a sudden, their seemingly healthy baby dies. Sudden infant death syndromeor SIDS , claimed 31 babies in San Diego County in 2007.  It's the leading cause of death for children under one year of age. The exact cause of SIDS remains a mystery. KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg has the story.

On March 1st, 1993, Jeri Wilson dropped her three-month-old daughter Janelle off at the daycare provider's.



 (Photo: Jeri Wilson lost her three-month-old daughter Janelle to SIDS in 1993. Kenny Goldberg/KPBS News )

Wilson went on a job interview, and had lunch with a friend. Then, she went to back to pickup her daughter.


Jeri Wilson: I came to the daycare provider's, and before I even got out of the car, you know, somebody from the house directed me to just go to the hospital, because my daughter had stopped breathing during a nap.


When Wilson got to the hospital, she was told doctors were trying to revive Janelle.


After about 45 minutes, Wilson got the word: Janelle was dead.


Wilson: I saw her afterwards, and the nurses and I stood around her and said a prayer, and that was it.


Wilson says she just couldn't believe it.


Wilson: She was a healthy baby, she was three months old and 16 pounds, a fat roly-poly little thing. She had not been sick, she had been to all her doctor's appointments, so I really had no idea, you know? I knew a little bit about SIDS, but, I was just really in shock. 


California has a standardized protocol for SIDS deaths.


Whenever it appears a baby might have died from SIDS, the case is automatically referred to the county health department. The medical examiner usually performs an autopsy within 24 hours. The death is attributed to SIDS only after all other possible causes are ruled out. Then, a public health nurse visits the family of the dead baby.


Kitty Roach is a public health nurse manager in North San Diego County. She says nurses try to help families cope with their grief. They offer referrals to other support services, too.



 (Photo: Public health nurse manager Kitty Roach and her team offer support to parents of SIDS babies. Kenny Goldberg/KPBS News )

A few years ago, Roach visited a very poor family who had lost their baby to SIDS.


Kitty Roach: When we were working with the funeral home and to have the baby buried, we realized that they had no pictures of their baby; they couldn't afford to have any of those done. Of course this was before digital cameras, so I just went and got one of the disposable cameras and we went to the funeral home, and the director and myself dressed the baby very nicely and then took some pictures so that, the family would at least have that.


Doctors say they don't have a firm understanding of what causes SIDS.


Pathologist Henry Krous has been studying the condition for 30 years. He directs the San Diego SIDS Research Project.



 (Photo: Pathologist Henry Krous has been researching SIDS for 30 years. Kenny Goldberg/KPBS News )


Krous says researchers have identified a number of important risk factors that can increase the likelihood of SIDS.


Dr. Henry Krous: Putting babies on their stomachs is really important to sudden infant death syndrome. We've learned that the more smoking exposure there is, the higher the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. We know that bed sharing is a risk factor, and bed sharing specifically means the baby and another person are sharing the same sleep surface.


In the early 90s, a national campaign was launched advising parents to put their babies on their backs to sleep. Since then, SIDS deaths have declined dramatically.


Currently, the risk of death from SIDS stands at one in 2000. Dr. Krous has some advice for parents who are worried about that.


Krous : What I tell parents is it's more important to dwell on the reverse of the statistic. If one thinks of this in the other direction, that the risk of survival is 1,999 out of 2,000, I think anybody would go to Las Vegas and bet the house on that.


Jeri Wilson has rebuilt her life since her daughter Janelle died. She's remarried, and has a six-year-old daughter.


Still, Wilson says she'll never forget Janelle.


Wilson: She was just wonderful, you know? Just chubby and hairy and she was just starting to smile. So I kinda felt sad that she had passed away when she was just starting to get her personality, you know? So, I would have liked to have known her better.


Kenny Goldberg, KPBS News.

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