After the tragic loss of their baby, a brave couple advocates safety
Ali and Derek Dodd from Oklahoma were already the proud parents of five-year-old Presley when they welcomed baby Shepard into their family. But after just 11 weeks of life as a foursome, one morning Ali dropped the baby off at daycare, never dreaming that this would be the last time she would hold him in her arms alive.
Unfortunately, not realizing the possible danger, the daycare worker left the infant unattended while sleeping unbuckled in his car seat. Two hours later, when she checked on him, she found Shepard unconscious, but not because he was sleeping. The baby had slid down in his seat and had turned blue from lack of oxygen. She immediately called 911. "In the middle of teaching a class I had to answer the phone to Ali saying I had to go, Shepard wasn’t breathing," father Derek recalled. "I ran to the truck and drove way too fast to the daycare provider's home. When I arrived, they were wheeling out my son on a stretcher. They were still working on him, but told me that they had yet to get his heart going or him breathing on his own. As I rode in the van in front of the ambulance, I had to prepare myself for life without my son."
Unfortunately, despite the doctors' best efforts, Shepard sadly couldn't be resuscitated. The cause of death was determined to be "positional asphyxia." Young infants don't have the neck strength to lift their heads on their own and therefore, their airway can become blocked if they are not sitting or lying in the right position.
While the loss of any child at any age is devastating for parents and other family members, Ali and Derek's pain was compounded by the knowledge that his death could have been prevented. The grieving parents now want to save others from experiencing the same pain by increasing awareness about proper sleeping positions and the dangers of leaving a child unattended and unbuckled in a car seat. Experts recommend that young babies be placed on their backs in a Moses basket or cot for sleeping. When they are strong enough to roll over by themselves, they can determine their own sleeping position.
"One of the more common reactions and comments we've gotten from the public is 'I let all of my children sleep in their car seat and they are perfectly fine' or 'parents do this all the time if it were really that dangerous...' or 'what about in the car on long road trips, is that dangerous also?'" Ali reported.
"Our campaign is not to scare people into thinking their babies will die in long car rides, or if their baby happens to fall asleep. It is simply to make them aware of the importance of properly using the devices and how to avoid the dangers that many of us really didn't know about before," she said.
Ali and Derek will never get their little son back. However, they have become passionate advocates for education about the proper use of car seats, improved safety legislation for daycare facilities, as well as parental leave (the United States is one of the only developed countries with no guaranteed paid maternity or paternity leave).
For more information about Shepard's Watch, the organization Ali and Derek founded as an umbrella for their advocacy work, click here. Not all parents who have experienced such a heartbreaking loss would find the strength to tell their story as openly as Ali and Derek have. But their mission is a worthy one and one hopes the campaign continues to draw the attention it warrants. Young babies and their parents deserve the best start in life and that includes, above all, being looked after and safe.