Babies in Hawaii are dying from what doctors say are preventable deaths.
The rate that it’s happening is alarming. KHON2 has learned that over the summer, on average, a baby died every week.
A grandfather who lost his granddaughter to a preventable death in 2002 is sharing his story in hopes of preventing another tragedy.
Ashley Nekoba was Dana Fong’s first grandchild. He was looking forward to spoiling her. But Ashley would not live to see her first birthday.
“What happened was she had passed away while in the care of a babysitter,” Fong said.
Ashley was only three months old. She was put to sleep on her stomach on a blanket and suffocated.
“What we had faced after that was something I really would not like to see anyone go through,” Fong said.
Fong is now a safe sleep advocate. He founded Safe Sleep Hawaii, and is doing all he can to get the message out, and working together with pediatricians.
“The sleep-related deaths, if you took away prematurity and first week of life and all the congenital malformations, sleep-related infant deaths are the number-one cause of death in Hawaii,” said Dr. Bob Pantell, Medical Director of the Kapiolani Child Protection Center.
It’s not just from babies being put to sleep on their stomach, but also infants are dying as a result of co-sleeping.
“If you put a seven-pound baby in between two parents, it really is similar to you and I getting in bed between a large hippo and small elephant,” Pantell said.
Pantell said he personally reviewed seven infant deaths this past summer that involved co-sleeping.
“There certainly has been a spike in infant deaths, and we even had one death where an older sibling may have been involved,” Pantel said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to say with often four, five, even six people in the same bed. If you put a six- or seven-pound in the midst of four other people, who really rolled over on the baby?”
Despite efforts like a safe sleeping video shown to new parents in Hawaii, and doctors and nurses spreading the word daily, the message still isn’t getting across to everyone.
“The most recent data from the Department of Health said that two-thirds of babies in Hawaii are exposed to one sort of unsafe sleep practice or another,” Pantell said.
“That’s the very frustrating part for me. Because despite everything that we have done, it still occurs. So it tells me our message isn’t getting out there to enough people,” Fong said.
Part of it is changing the perception that what your parents did years ago is still safe practice, when in fact, in many cases, it isn’t.
Today, Ashley would’ve been 13 years old and in middle school. Fong can’t help but wonder what she would’ve been like.
But rather than dwell on the past, he looks to the future, hoping to prevent another infant death from happening.
“Nobody would think it would happen to them and when it does, it’s too late,” Fong said.
Here are tips Safe Sleep Hawaii recommends to keep your baby safe:
- Do not co-sleep.
- Put infants on their back to sleep.
- Use safety-approved cribs with firm mattresses.
- Keep pillows, soft comforters and stuffed animals out of the sleep area.
- To prevent overheating, do not overdress babies when they sleep.
If you can’t afford to buy a crib, there’s a program can provide you one for free. Hawaii Cribs for Kids, which is run by Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawaii, gives away free Pack ‘n Play cribs to low-income parents who qualify.
They must be referred to the program by their social worker or case manager, and they must attend a safe sleep class.
Thanks to a grant, Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies has given away 160 cribs over the past two years.