San Diego

A Look At SIDS Deaths in San Diego County

The number of locally reported SIDS cases is decreasing, but tracking cases is difficult

Michelle Herrera from Lakeside is a busy mom to six children, ranging in age from 13 to 25 years old; but, when she thinks about her daughter, Veronica, she tears up.

“Grief is very isolating,” she said. “It was the most horrible experience of my life so far.”

Veronica was born at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital on June 26, 1993. Herrera said she was a healthy baby.

“I had this chunky, beautiful, pink baby,” Herrera said.

After Veronica was born, Herrera went back to her job at a telephone company. The babysitter came to take care of the child, like any other work day.

According to the autopsy report, 3-month-old Veronica died at 6:05 p.m. that same day. She was found face down in her crib. Herrera was confused and devastated.

“Babies don't just go to sleep and die, that's not normal,” she said.

The cause of death was never determined but classified as a case of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS.

According to local health experts, it's the leading cause of death for infants under the age of one-year-old in the United States. Approximately 3,500 infants die annually in the United States from sleep-related deaths and about 1,500 of those are from SIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In cases like these, experts aren't able to identify the exact cause of death, making tracking even more complex. NBC 7 Investigates found agencies which track SIDS deaths report variations in the total number of deaths attributed to SIDS.

In 2010, the San Diego County Medical Examiner reports there were 19 SIDS deaths in the county in 2010. The California Department of Health said there were 26.  In 2012, the Medical Examiner reports 12 cases while the Department of Health reports 19.

A spokesperson for the San Diego Medical Examiners Officer told NBC 7 investigates the variations are a result of how the cases are being categorized.

“If it's not SIDS, it can be listed as undetermined or SUDI which is unexplained infant death,” Herrera said. “There's different terminology and we are trying to get them all lumped together.”

Herrera, now volunteers her time, supporting other parents who have lost children to SIDS. She also works with the California SIDS Advisory Council, advocating for better tracking of SIDS deaths.

“We have found that the military numbers aren’t getting counted the same way,” she said.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the Deputy Public Health Officer for San Diego County, said the number of SIDS-related deaths has dropped substantially since the early 1990s. Credit, he said, goes to the "Back to Sleep" campaign led by the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Through it, parents learned to lay their babies on their backs at bedtime and remove loose bedding and toys.

The American Academy of Pediatrics newest recommendation is for infants to sleep in their parents' bedroom for the first six months to a year, but not in the same bed.

Herrera said her daughter’s “crib was not a safe sleep environment. She had all the pretty bumpers, and the beautiful fluffy comforters and pillows.”

For more tips on SIDS prevention, click here.

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