Crib Cams May Hold Clues to 'Every Parent's Nightmare'

Scientists say videos show seizures may be behind sudden unexplained death in childhood, or SUDC
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 6, 2024 6:30 AM CST
Possible Cause of Unexplained Child Deaths: Seizures
Photos of Hayden Fell and his twin brother, Cameron, sit on a table at home in Bel Air, Maryland, on Dec. 4. The Fells knew all about putting infants to sleep on their backs to lower the risk of SIDS. But Hayden was long past the age of SIDS, and they'd never heard of sudden unexplained death in childhood,...   (AP Photo/Shelby Lum)

The last bedtime of 17-month-old Hayden Fell's life was heartbreakingly normal. Crib video shows the toddler in pajamas playing happily as his parents and sister sang "Wheels on the Bus" with his twin brother. The next morning, Hayden's dad couldn't wake him. The tot had become one of several hundred seemingly healthy US toddlers and preschoolers each year who suddenly die in their sleep and autopsies can't tell why. But Hayden's crib cam was recording all night and offered a clue. Seizures during sleep are a potential cause of at least some cases of sudden unexplained death in childhood, or SUDC, researchers at NYU Langone Health reported Thursday after analyzing home monitoring video that captured the deaths of seven sleeping toddlers, per the AP.

Similar to SIDS in babies, SUDC is the term when these mysterious deaths occur any time after a child's first birthday. Little is known about SUDC, but some scientists have long suspected seizures may play a role. In addition to some genetics research, scientists also have found that a history of fever-related seizures was about 10 times more likely among the children who died suddenly than among youngsters the same age. The new study is very small but offers the first direct evidence of a seizure link. Five of the toddlers died shortly after movements deemed to be a brief seizure by a team of forensic pathologists, a seizure specialist, and a sleep specialist. A sixth child probably also had one, according to findings published online by the journal Neurology.

The recordings can't prove fevers triggered the seizures, but researchers noted several toddlers had signs of mild infections. One, Hayden, previously had such febrile seizures when he'd catch childhood bugs. That raises a big question: Fever-related seizures are common in young children, affecting 2% to 5% of tots between ages 6 months and 5 years. While scary, they're hardly ever harmful. So how could anyone tell if occasionally, they might be a warning of something more serious? "I thought he would be fine and it was just a matter of letting this run its course," said Justin Fell, explaining how multiple doctors told the Bel Air, Maryland, family not to worry whenever Hayden had a fever-sparked seizure. Instead, "it was every parent's nightmare."

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SUDC is estimated to claim more than 400 lives a year in the US. Most occur during sleep. And just over half, about 250 deaths a year, are in 1- to 4-year-olds. Sudden death in babies occurs more often and gets more public attention—along with more research funding that, in turn, has uncovered risk factors and prevention advice. But SUDC happens to youngsters long past the age of SIDS. The Fells had never even heard of it until Hayden died. He experienced his first seizure shortly before his first birthday, when a coldlike virus sparked a fever. Additional mild bugs triggered several more, but Hayden always rapidly bounced back—until the night in November 2022 when he died. Hayden's mom, Katie Czajkowski-Fell, hopes the video evidence helps finally lead to answers. "His life, it was too precious and too important for us to not try and do something with this tragedy." Much more here.

(More child death stories.)

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