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ST. MARYS — When Jessica Phlipot awoke on July 30, 2011, to feed her baby, she discovered Landen Phlipot, 3-months-old, blue and unresponsive.
She called 911. Her husband, Joey, was on a machine for sleep apnea, and she struggled to wake him, then tried banging on neighbors’ doors near their Minster home.
When paramedics arrived, minutes after the call came, they took the baby to the hospital, but the child had already passed away, a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
“I never heard of SIDS,” Joey Phlipot said, adding he couldn’t understand why it had happened, or even what had happened.
He and his wife had delivered a healthy red-headed baby at Joint Township District Memorial Hospital, their second child. They’d had no problems with their first. Hours after learning their child had died, their house was invaded by people checking their bottles, asking if heat or air had been on the child.
“A couple hours before we had lost a son, now we’re being interrogated,” Phlipot said.
He said they started second guessing themselves, wondering if they’d done everything right, if there had been anything that could have prevented it. What he discovered was that though he’d never heard of SIDS before, it wasn’t uncommon. While there is no way to prevent it, there are ways to reduce the chance a baby will be a victim.
Now two years after the death, the Phlipot family is continuing their crusade to inform the community about safe sleeping habits with the help of JTDMH during SIDS Awareness month.
The hospital has recommitted this month to the goal of no parent leaving the hospital without hearing about safe sleeping habits, said OB Manager Liz Obringer. To mark the month, she’s distributed information to the OB Department of the hospital reminding them to give parents tips about safe sleeping.
“Every health care facility is aware of SIDS,” Obringer said. “This gives us a chance to mirror what we tell them, when we start right here at the hospital.”
Ohio has a SIDS rate higher than the national average, with three children per week in Ohio dying of the affliction. Obringer said cases of SIDS disproportionately affect black infants, with those infants dying from SIDS at twice the rate of their Caucasian counterparts.
Part of that, Obringer said, could be part of parents’ perceptions on correct sleeping positions. Caucasian parents are more likely to report they put their children in a back sleeping position, she said, which makes SIDS less likely. Other prevention techniques include never letting the child sleep in a bed with an adult, or on a couch, not smoking near a child, and never covering a child with blankets that can become loose or including stuffed animals in the crib. All these are thought to be risk factors for suffocation.
But even in situations where parents do everything right, SIDS can occur.
“Often times there is no medical reason why babies die,” Obringer said.
At their child’s funeral, couples the Phlipots never met came to tell them they had been through the same thing. They realized they wanted to do something to prevent SIDS from hurting other families, and after research Phlipot decided to partner with the JTDMH Foundation to provide wearable blankets, normally $25 each, for every child that is born in the hospital.
Joint Township District Memorial Hospital Foundation Director Linda Haines said it was something he and the foundation could do that might, literally, save a life.
“This year, there were 14 teams and over 200 people,” Haines said of the Phlipots’ paintball fundraiser. “He’s very passionate. It’s just him and his family and friends.”
Obringer said it gave hospital staff an opening to explain safe sleeping habits when they gave new parents the gift of the wearable blanket. Because blankets covering the mouth can lead to asphyxiation and having too much heat is a risk factor, the wearable blanket provides the right environment without blankets that can loosen and cover an airway, with the ends of the blanket tucking in around the baby, unable to loosen.
For the Phlipot family, giving the sleeping sacks in memory of Landen has helped with the healing process. Phlipot said after the death, his friends had trouble talking to him, and no one knew what to say. He went into depression, but one thing that helped was taking action. Starting the Landen Phlipot Fund for the blankets and having his friends help in the fundraising made him feel like he was remembering his son.
“We’ve done so many things in his memory,” he said.
Another way the family moved on, he said, was welcoming another child. His daughter recently turned 1, and the family finally decided it was OK to turn off the special monitor she’s slept on since birth that ensures she’s breathing and sounds an alarm if she stops moving.
That monitor, Phlipot said, helped his wife sleep at night. But even after a year, turning off the alarm was a big step. His wife, he said, still deals with the loss and worry.
But out of that loss, he said, the family has their daughter Skyler.
“If he had stayed alive, I don’t know if we would have had Skyler,” Phlipot said, adding his daughter is a tomboy who emulates him. “I wish (Landen) had lived, but I’m glad we have her.”