Sudden Infant Death Syndrome remains a mystery

By Christina Good Voice Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Angela Garrett remembers the cold day in January 1993 as one that began like a normal day. She had just per her 2-month-old son, Blaine, down for a nap in his crib. She checked on him frequently, but despite that, one hour later Blaine died in his sleep. The cause was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, Awareness Month. SIDS occurs at a rate of about 0.5 per 1,000 births. However, in American Indian and African American populations, the rate is around one per 1,000 births. SIDS is considered the death of a child less than 1 year old that remains “unexplained” after a thorough investigation including an autopsy, review of clinical history and investigation of the scene of death, said Dr. Tom Kincade, chief of Pediatrics at the Cherokee Nation Three Rivers Health Center in Muskogee. “I think it is important for our communities to know abut SIDS due to the increased rates in Native Americans and also to be aware of the factors that can help prevent SIDS,” Kincade said. SIDS remains a leading cause of death in healthy infants less than 1 year old, and approximately 2,100 infants in the United States die of SIDS per year, he said. Parents can reduce the risk of SIDS by placing babies on their backs to sleep. “Studies show that over 90 percent of infants that died from SIDS were not sleeping on their backs,” he said. “Most were sleeping on their stomachs.” Garrett said she put Blaine on his back for his nap, but when she found him, he was on his stomach and his face was in the crib mattress. “Somehow, at 2 months old he rolled over,” she said. “He was already gone when I found him. I didn’t even call 911(immediately.) I called my mom because he was already gone.” She said afterward she was in a state of shock, and since then she’s blocked out most of the memory of losing Blaine to SIDS. “I don’t even remember them taking him out,” she said. “I thought he was still in the room after the ambulance got there and everything. It was a couple of hours later and I thought he was still there.” Even now, 14 years later, Garrett said she’s stilly trying to understand SIDS. “From the moment I found him, I don’t remember too much of anything else,” she said. “He wasn’t sick. He didn’t have a cold. There wasn’t anything wrong with him.” Studies have also shown that letting babies use pacifiers while sleeping can reduce the SIDS risk, Kincade said. He added that infants should sleep on a firm sleeping surface, should not be overdressed while they sleep and stuffed animals, excess bedding and blankets should be avoided. “When babies leave the hospital nursery they should be able to maintain a normal body temperature which means if parents feel comfortable in shorts and a tee shirt, their babies will too,” he said. Educational materials about SIDS have been placed in the clinic and exam rooms at the Three Rivers Health Center, and other tribal clinics have been encouraged to do the same, Kincade said.

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