Dec. 15 and Jan. 18.
Those two days — just a little over a month apart — were life-changing for the families of Norfolkans Allison Uecker and Melissa West.
That Friday in December, Uecker remembers getting her sons, Beckett and Barrett, up for the day after she had gotten ready for work.
Barrett, who was just 3 months old, was laying in his crib looking around. When he saw her, she said his face lit up with “the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.”
It was a normal morning, with Uecker — whose husband is Brad — dropping her sons off at daycare before heading to her nursing job in the orthopedic clinic at Faith Regional Health Services.
That Thursday in January was not so different for West.
Her youngest son, Briggs, was just under 3 months old, and West was getting ready to go back to work the following week after having been on maternity leave.
That morning, she planned to take Briggs to the family’s daycare provider so that they had an opportunity to get familiar with him before she returned to work at Norfolk Iron and Metal.
So, West woke up a little earlier, Briggs ate like normal, and after plenty of hugs, kisses and giggles, she loaded up Briggs and his older brother, Braxton, in the car and headed to daycare. West and her husband, Shawn, also have sons Brock and Brodie.
But for each of these women, the day would eventually bring a phone call.
Uecker’s came at 10:45 a.m., and West’s came at 12:30 p.m. But the two mother would both hear the same thing.
Their babies had stopped breathing.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is the leading cause of death in infants between 1 month and 1 year of age. It’s unexplained, happening in seemingly healthy babies, usually during sleep — though Barrett’s was a rare case where it happened while he was awake.
While the cause of the syndrome is unknown, according to the Mayo Clinic, researchers have discovered factors that put babies at an increased risk and have identified some measures parents can take to protect their children.
When Uecker heard that another mom in the community also had lost her son to SIDS, she felt a need to reach out.
“I first met her at Briggs’ visitation and it was just an instant, like we knew each other forever,” Uecker said. “It was just like a God-sent sisterhood.”
About two weeks after that meeting, the women had not only struck up a deep friendship, but they also had created a goal: Educate and provide resources for new parents so they wouldn’t have to go through what their families did.
Thus began The Briggs and Barrett Project.
Together with Faith Regional Health Services, the project will provide parents of newborns at the hospital with a product known as a Halo Sleep Sack to encourage parents to put their infants to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of SIDS. They’ll also receive a copy of “Sleep Baby: Safe and Snug,” a book created to help educate parents about SIDS prevention.
“The idea of Back to Sleep (initiative) and nothing but baby in the crib have been concepts that have been in our literature … for some time,” said Barb Petersen, director of women’s and children’s services at Faith Regional.
“But we have found that it’s been kind of a slow process to move forward on because a lot of moms tend to breastfeed this day and age, which is awesome, but they tend to fall asleep with their baby in their arms in their bed. We just have a lot more awareness now that babies (need to be) put into their own bed and left in there with minimal covers.”
That’s the idea of the sleep sack, which swaddles babies without overwhelming them with fabric. Plus, the book is an extra educational piece for parents and can be read to children. It also can help teach extended family, who might help with infant care, about safe sleep practices that they may not be aware of, Petersen said.
Petersen noted that the sleep sack that will be given to parents at Faith Regional is designed for newborns, and it’s suggested that parents purchase and use the next level of sleep sack as their babies age — until they’re able to roll over on their own.
Uecker and West have been busy fundraising to send these items home with parents leaving the hospital.
They’ve been selling shirts with symbols representing the saying, “God is greater than highs and lows” on them, with 100 percent of the proceeds going toward the project.
The Briggs and Barrett Project also will be the recipient of funds raised by Faith Regional Health Services during the Norfolk Area Big Give on May 22.
“The love and the heart and the education that the hospital wants to promote in our community for safe sleep practices is just unbelievable,” West said. “We are just so excited that they want to partner with us and really get this project going.”
A $10 donation is all it takes to fund a sleep sack and a book, so it’s an inexpensive way to make a big difference, said Jake Claussen, executive director of Faith Regional Health Services Foundation.
Claussen also said a silent auction will be held online at fhrs.org from May 20 through May 24, with proceeds going to the project.
West and Uecker are excited to start distributing the items to new parents but are unsure what date that will begin.
But months of hard work is paying off, and in trying to help others in memory of their sons, the moms have found that it’s helping them, too.
“The project has been so good, I think, to help us through our grieving of losing our sons,” West said. “But having each other has been such a strong bond in helping us get through this, too.”
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