On Monday, 11-year-old Janiyah Taylor of Mobile, Ala., died unexpectedly in her sleep, according to local news reports. Her death is shocking and tragic to those around her, and like other such stories, it is also frightening to other parents and children. After everything we do to keep our kids healthy and safe, how is it that they can die this inexplicably?
Without knowing any details of Janiyah’s case — of which there are few — Ashanti Woods, MD, attending pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, spoke to Yahoo Lifestyle about the frustratingly vague phenomenon called “sudden unexplained death in childhood” (SUDC).
“One thing that could have occurred was some type of seizure activity,” Woods says, listing the most common underlying causes of SUDC. “The second thing would be some type of heart abnormality or arrhythmia. The last thing might be obstructive sleep apnea.”
SUDC, the equivalent of sudden infant death syndrome for children aged 12 months to 18 years old, was listed as the cause of death for about 445 children in 2016, according to CDC numbers calculated by SUDC.org. In other words, it’s extremely rare, but reports of deaths are bound to strike fear into parents’ hearts.
“Is there a way to prevent it? The short answer is no,” Woods admits. “Being a parent, I want to say, that’s not good enough. I want to do something. I want to feel like I’m protecting my child.”
What parents can do is make sure their children’s pediatrician has all possible information about the family’s medical history.
“We have to ask our family members, what conditions run in our family, and was there anyone in our family who passed away under 30 and we didn’t know why they passed away?” Woods says. If there have been any early unexplained deaths, along with a family history of seizure disorder or heart condition, a pediatrician can decide if there’s any need for further testing. The doctor might suggest additional blood work, genetics testing, or an EEG.
Another silent killer of children is something called Long QT syndrome, a rare genetic mutation that affects the heart. If one child in a family is known to have heart problems, parents of his or her cousins and siblings should tell their doctors about that too.
A sudden death like Janiyah Taylor’s will profoundly affect the other children who knew her. “They cried a lot,” Janiyah’s dance teacher, Rachael Reese, told a local news outlet. “They’re still crying, according to their parents. They’re still trying to understand why, why did she have to go like that.”
Woods said that parents and teachers like Reese might have to reassure the children that they are still very unlikely to die in their sleep. “The goal should be to minimize the fear that a child could potentially have,” he says. “Sometimes bad things happen, but reassure them that they are safe.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with Janiyah’s memorial.
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