MUNCIE — Michelle Friend and others at Huffer Memorial Children’s Center have been overwhelmed by calls this week from confused and concerned parents in the wake of an infant’s death at a Muncie babysitter’s home.
“Our county has now dealt with the devastating blow of having two infants die while in the care of (the same) babysitter,” said Friend, toddler specialist for Huffer’s Child Care Resource and Referral.
This week’s tragedy followed recent reports that Delaware County leads the state in the percentage of pregnant women who smoke. Both second-hand smoke and pregnant women smoking are considered risk factors in Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUID), many of which are later attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Matthew Cheng, four months old, died Tuesday afternoon while in the care of Tina Byrd, 3301 W. Noel Drive. On Nov. 3, another baby boy, John K. Wenninger, also died while being cared for by the 43-year-old Byrd. The first child’s death was classified as SUID with the cause undetermined.
City police are continuing their investigation of the Cheng infant’s death and plan to re-interview Byrd once full autopsy results are available.
Huffer’s CCRR is part of a statewide network that provides free information, education and referrals for child care to Hoosiers.
Friend said she wished more parents would contact Huffer for information on SUID, infant death in child-care settings and positional asphyxia. The facility can provide lists of child-care providers, information on safe sleep practices and training for infant care.
Cheng’s death also could be classified as SUID once final toxicology and lab work is completed.
“When there’s absolutely no reason for a baby to die, they call it SUID,” Friend said.
Research shows that male babies are more prone to die of SUID than female infants, and that a SUID death is 18 times more likely to occur with a child sleeping on its stomach.
Friend agreed with medical experts and death investigators that sleeping face down is a risk factor in SUID cases. Byrd indicated that the Cheng infant had rolled over on his stomach when she called emergency dispatchers.
“SUID cannot be prevented or predicted, but knowing the risk factors lowers the occurrence,” Friend said.
The highest risk for SUID or positional asphyxia comes in children six months old or younger, according to Anoinette L. Laskey, a child abuse pediatrician at Riley Children’s Hospital, Indianapolis.
Laskey also serves on Indiana’s Child Fatality Review Team that reviews child deaths in the state.
Even a complete autopsy conducted by a forensic pathologist might not find a cause of an infant death that could be classified as SUID.
Parents and caregivers need to know the safest position for sleeping infants is on their backs, on a firm surface.
“We look for opportunities to prevent such tragedies,” Laskey said.