Dawson Howell was on earth only three and a half months, but his family has a dream he will help other premature infants for years to come.
Krissy Howell of Mantachie took the first steps to start Dawson’s Dream just weeks after she and husband Chris lost their infant to sudden infant death syndrome in June.
“She’s taken such a tragedy and turned it into a mission,” said Christy Whitley, NMMC Women’s Hospital social worker.
Now the newly created Dawson’s Dream fund is making apnea monitors available to families of premature infants who need them but don’t have the resources to acquire the devices as they are discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit at North Mississippi Medical Center Women’s Hospital Women’s Hospital.
“I was just not OK with Dawson being gone and there not being anything good coming from it,” Howell said.
Preterm infants are at greater risk for apnea – pauses in breathing that last more than 20 seconds. Because they were born early, the premature babies don’t have all the reflexes that would rouse them during an apnea episode.
“Their brains are still developing,” said Tupelo pediatrician Nikki Ivancic.
Apnea monitors are recommended only under very specific criteria, Ivancic said. Not every infant or even every preterm infant needs an apnea monitor.
“The goal is for (premature infants) to have no apnea for a week before they are sent home,” Ivancic said.
If the apnea resolves easily with stimulation and there’s no other need for the baby to remain in neonatal intensive care, the babies can be sent home with an apnea monitor.
“They usually stay on the apnea monitor for a few weeks,” Ivancic said.
The medical apnea monitors use a band around the baby’s chest to measure breathing and heart rate. They can be customized to the doctor’s orders, Whitley said. Usually they are set to alarm if the heart rate goes above 220 beats a minute, below 80 beats a minute or the baby doesn’t move for 20 seconds. The medical-grade monitor also collects data so the episodes can be analyzed.
The exact causes and mechanisms of SIDS aren’t known. The best ways to prevent SIDS are making sure babies are put down on their backs to sleep in their own cribs and are kept away from tobacco smoke, Ivancic said.
“We can do as much as we can to address unsafe sleep practices,” Ivancic said.
Gone too soon
Dawson was born five weeks early and spent a week in the hospital before he was able to go home with his family, Howell said. He was hospitalized with pneumonia when he was just 2 months old, but appeared to be on the mend, and his mom felt she could return to work at Creative Touch Day Spa and Salon in Tupelo. She received a terrible call on June 21 from her baby sitter that Dawson was unresponsive.
“I try not to say what if,” Howell said.
While she was still in the fog of grief, Howell was inspired to create a Go Fund Me page for the fund that would become Dawson’s Dream. She wanted to do something to help the parents of premature infants, who are at an increased risk for SIDS.
“I never questioned it,” Howell said. “I just did it.”
The page raised $2,700 on its own. Then Howell began selling Dawson’s Dream T-shirts and bracelets. In all, $8,500 has been raised in a matter of months.
“People found out and wanted to help,” she said.
Howell asked the Healthcare Foundation of North Mississippi, the philanthropic arm of North Mississippi Health Services, to help her manage the fund. Howell remembers being saddened that there were families whose premature babies were going without the apnea monitors the doctors recommended because they didn’t have the resources to rent them.
“I didn’t realize their was the need,” Howell said. “It’s like it was Dawson’s purpose.”
The first baby to receive help from Dawson’s Dream went home with an apnea monitor earlier this month.
No one knows what causes sudden infant death syndrome, but research has shown these measures reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.
• Always place babies on their backs to sleep.
• Babies need a firm sleep surface in a safety-approved crib, covered by a fitted sheet.
• Babies should share parents’ rooms, not beds. Babies should not sleep in adult bed, on couch or chair alone or with anyone else.
• Remove soft objects like pillows, bumpers and loose bedding.
• Don’t smoke during pregnancy or allow smoking around baby.
Source: Centers for Disease Control