Promise to Payton: Austin couple teaches other parents about safe sleep


by Terri Gruca

Bio | Email | Follow: @TerriG_KVUE

Posted on May 26, 2010 at 11:00 PM

Flip through any baby book and chances are you’ll find a picture of a baby snuggled up on someone’s chest. It’s something most of us find cute. Something most of us wouldn’t give a second thought. However an Austin couple hopes you will.

As newlyweds John and J.J. Eeten couldn’t wait to become parents.

"We were ecstatic,” said J.J.

Little Payton Lynn arrived 3 weeks earlier than expected.

"She was born October 7, 2007 via emergency c-section,” she said. “I developed a rare pregnancy related heart condition and she had to come out."

Once home, life was as chaotic as any new family, and just as joyous. 

"She was a character from the get go,” said J.J.

"She hated to have her diaper changed, she hated to be cold,” said John. “So anytime we changed her, when we stripped her that was really the only time she cried."

Within four days J.J.’s heart condition worsened and she ended up back in the hospital.

“It was nine kinds of stress,” recalled John. “It was stress I’ve never experienced before. I wasn’t sleeping very well.”

Worried about his wife, taking care of his new daughter, John spent most of his time driving back and forth to the hospital. Then one night after a dinner feeding as his daughter Payton rested on his shoulder, exhaustion took over. 

"I was in bed with Payton sitting up and at some point I fell asleep,” he said.

John awoke to a nightmare.

“I saw the position she was in and the father in me panicked and I just started screaming for help. In the time I was asleep Payton was still on my shoulder, she came off my shoulder ended up face down on the mattress and suffocated,” John said. "She was right next to me."

Thirteen days after celebrating the birth of their daughter, these new parents were planning Payton’s funeral.

"There's not a word to describe the loss of a child. There just isn't. It changed our whole world," said J.J.

As EMT's John and J.J. had seen cases like this before.

"I knew that it happened,” said J.J. “I never thought it would happen to us."

Doctors see a trend

“It happens more than people think,” said Dr. Beth Nauert, a pediatrician with Austin Diagnostic Clinic.

Dr. Nauert said there has been a big increase in child deaths due to unsafe sleeping conditions in the past two to three years.

Each year nationwide 900 children die. Last year 167 of those cases were here in Texas.

“These are babies that are found dead sleeping with an adult or sleeping with blankets or pillows or soft surfaces,” said Dr. Nauert.

Why babies have problems

Unlike adults, Dr. Nauert said babies only breathe through their nose. So they can’t sense when their oxygen is low.

“If you’re sleeping and I throw a blanket over your face you’re going to automatically clear your airway,” she said. “Even if you don’t wake up, your body will sense that things aren’t right. Babies don’t have as much ability to do that. They can’t tell when they’re not getting air in and out.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics parents should practice what it calls the ABC's of sleeping: always put your child Alone, on their Back, in their Crib.

The crib should be free of stuffed animals, bumpers and blankets. The mattress should be hard enough that the baby’s body doesn’t leave an imprint. All things John and J.J. knew, even practiced.

"I still feel guilty knowing what happened, knowing how preventable it is and the fact that it still happened -- especially because we had all the tools available,” said John. “There was a pack and play downstairs, she had a crib in her room and the bassinet was right next to us, right next to our bed so we could put her in the bassinet.”

"What new parent doesn't want to snuggle with their child?” asked J.J. “But we have to realize the point where, I'm tired, this isn't safe anymore. My child has to go in the crib."

Payton Lynn Program

They are lessons John and J.J. now share with other parents.

Last week they helped launch a state, non-profit and public safety effort called, fittingly enough, the Payton Lynn Program.

"We have 13 paramedics and EMTs, safe sleep trained technicians and together with this training we're going out to homes," said J.J.

They teach parents the simple rules of safe sleep, show them how set up pack and plays then leave them with the family in hopes of saving lives.

They want families to reach the milestones they’d hoped to celebrate in their own family, the ones they now commemorate in a place no parent should have to visit – a cemetery.

Payton Lynn would have turned three this fall.

"To me it is not right that my wife and I had to bury our daughter," said John.

“We don't want another family to have to do that," said J.J.

The Payton Lynn Program has 150 pack and plays it will be giving away to families identified by the Department of Family and Protective Services.

If you have any questions or would like to make a donation to the program you can do so through Partnerships for Children.

John and J.J. are hoping to triple their reach with the help of a grant which you can also help by going to the Pepsi Refresh program and voting for the Payton Lynn Program. Voting ends May 31st.

Safe Sleep guidelines

Here are the CPSC, the AAP and the NICHD’s guidelines for safe sleep:

  • Place baby on his/her back on a firm, tight-fitting mattress in a crib that meets current safety standards. Remove pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, stuffed toys and other soft products from the crib. Consider using a sleeper as an alternative to blankets with no other covering.
  • If using a blanket, put baby with its feet at the foot of the crib. Tuck a thin blanket around the crib mattress, only as far as the baby's chest.
  • Make sure your baby's head remains uncovered during sleep.
  • Do not place baby on a water bed, sofa, soft mattress, pillow or other soft surface to sleep.

These are also the recommendations from the Texas State Child Fatality Review Team Committee:

Recommended Healthy Practices for Parents

It is recommended that:

  • Pregnant women take care of themselves during pregnancy and receive early pre-natal care from a licensed doctor.
  • Parents quit smoking during pregnancy and remain smoke-free after the birth of the child.
  • Children receive regular well-child check-ups by a licensed doctor.
  • Parents look for safety information on cribs, bassinets and other related items found in sleep environments, such as toys, bedding and blankets.
  • Mothers breastfeed their infants up to one year of age if possible.

Recommended Sleep Position

It is recommended that:

  • Babies are placed on their backs to sleep for naps or at night.
  • Babies are given time on the tummy while awake and supervised by a responsible older teen or adult.
  • Parents tell relatives, friends and babysitters that the baby will be placed on his/her back to sleep.

Recommended Sleep Environment

It is recommended that:

  • Babies are placed to sleep in safety-approved crib or bassinet with a firm mattress, using a well-fitting sheet made for the crib or bassinet.
  • Parents maintain the home and especially the baby’s sleep area free of cigarette smoke.
  • Babies are never placed to sleep on soft mattresses or cushions, such as on beds, sofas, chairs or water beds.
  • Babies’ sleep environment is free of toys or other soft bedding items, such as blankets or comforters, stuffed animals and bumper pads.
  • Babies’ sleep environment is free of unsafe items, such as plastic sheets, plastic bags, strings, cords or ropes.