Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (left) speaks with former Sen. Leticia Van de Putte about the tragic loss of children to SIDS. Photo by Lea Thompson.

When former state Sen. Van de Putte’s son Gregory, and his wife Samantha lost their five-month-old son Rex in 2012, they watched their home become a crime scene. Months later, the autopsy report confirmed that Rex had died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

“He went to sleep one day and never woke up. No one should ever have to experience this pain,” Van de Putte said. Tears began to form and fall from her eyes. Her pain has inspired her to join countless other mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends in the search for a solution to the mysterious affliction. “We’ve got to get more information to try to prevent those risk factors, and while there’s a lot of risk factors, we don’t know what the connection is or why they stop breathing.”

Former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte mourns the loss of her grandson, Rex.  Photo by Lea Thompson.
Former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte mourns the loss of her grandson, Rex. Photo by Lea Thompson.

The Van de Putte family was devastated by the tragedy, but Rex’s mother Samantha found a new reason to work, holding the first Walk + Run for Rex in May 2013, on what would have been his first birthday. The annual event benefits the Southwest SIDS Research Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to ending all unexpected infant mortality through medical services, education and research. Visit www.walkrunforrex.com to register for the 3rd Annual Walk/Run for Rex, taking place on Saturday, Nov. 14, at Los Patios.

Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) has also joined the movement because of her own tragic, personal connection to SIDS. Gonzales visited Van de Putte’s home on Saturday to discuss their family’s experiences with SIDS for an interview with the Rivard Report.

Gonzales recounts the morning she and her husband, Kevin Barton, received a frantic phone call from Barton’s son, Joseph. It was difficult to understand what had happened, but it was clear that Joseph’s 15-month-old baby girl, Jonah, had passed away during the night.

Gonzales immediately called Van de Putte for support and advice to help her family with the loss, and what to expect in the years ahead.

Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) holds her four-month-old son, Zachary Gonzales Barton. Photo by Lea Thompson.
Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) holds her four-month-old son, Zachary Gonzales Barton. Photo by Lea Thompson.

“I wasn’t sure what to do at first,” Gonzales said, as she closely held her own baby, four-month-old Zachary Gonzales Barton. “It does help to have a support team.”

Van de Putte was also able to direct Gonzales and the Barton family to important support resources like The Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, which provides grief counseling support groups for families and individuals who have lost a child.

“The hard part is not the first weeks after, the hard part is the rest of your life,” Van de Putte added. “All the birthdays, the christmases, the holidays- it goes on.”

According to Dr. Sanjie Garza-Cox, a neonatologist with MEDNAX National Medical Group, San Antonio has the highest SIDS rate in Texas, losing one baby every 10 days. SIDS often happens without explanation, while (Sudden Unexplained Infant Death) SUID cases are often preventable, and caused by accidental suffocation or strangulation.

Experts still aren’t sure what causes SIDS, but local and national organizations are working to prevent the likelihood of this happening. The number of SIDS cases has dramatically decreased since the ‘80s, but it remains the leading cause of SUID cases.

According to the National Institute of Health’s Safe to Sleep Campaign, parents should avoid crib bumper pads and pillows, or over-wrapping the baby during the winter, which has been linked with overheating and suffocation.

From the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Click to enlarge.
From the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Click to enlarge.

Dr. Sanjie Garza-Cox, who is also the chief of staff at Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, has partnered with neonatologists at local hospitals to form The Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy Coalition Team.

The team is using the Safe to Sleep Campaign to standardize the way that health officials and hospitals teach new parents to care for their baby.

“We’ve been working with everyone from Childhood Start to CPS to use the same methods,” Garza-Cox said. “Maybe if they hear it enough, they’ll begin to use it.”

Families with limited means often experience higher rates of SIDS and SUID, she said. Many San Antonio families are often unable to provide a safe crib or sleeping environment for their child, but local events like the Walk + Run for Rex are working to get the best information and tools to these families.

“When I signed up for the Rex Walk, I felt that some people have issues with spending the $40 for registration, but every registration provides one family with a Safe Sleep Pack, giving them what they need to hopefully avoid this,” Cox-Garza said.

Each Safe Sleep pack includes a pacifier, information about safe sleep and breastfeeding, a onesie that has that reminds parents to place the baby on their back, a sleeper for wintertime, and a free pamphlet to help families learn more about SIDS and SUID prevention.

Cox advises families to co-sleep with infants by keeping the baby in the same room as them each night, but to avoid co-bedding or sleeping in the same bed as the baby, which can lead to accidental suffocation.

*Top image: Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (left) speaks with former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. Photo by Lea Thompson.

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Lea Thompson

Lea Thompson is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events. Follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter or Culture Spoon.