Minnesota couple turns tragedy into safety in SIDS prevention wearable blanket
It was 21 years ago that Bill and Cathy Schmid lost their eight-week-old baby girl to SIDS. But to the couple, some days, it seems just like yesterday.
Haley was the Plymouth couple’s first baby. The notion of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) was only just surfacing within the medical community, but never did the Schmids think it could or would happen to their perfectly healthy daughter.
“As you can imagine, it’s a life changing, devastating thing,” Bill Schmid said. “We struggled with it for awhile, looking for answers. And there really weren’t any answers at that time.”
Bill, an engineer by trade, and his wife a pharmacist, the Schmids were determined to dig deeper into this phenomenon called “SIDS” that robbed them of a precious, new life.
It wasn’t until 1992, when the “Back To Sleep” campaign was unveiled and offered as a way to educate parents, caregivers, and health care providers about ways to reduce the risk for SIDS.
The campaign, sponsored in part by the American Academy of Pediatrics, was named for its recommendation to place healthy babies on their backs to sleep. Placing babies on their backs to sleep was proven to help reduce the risk for SIDS, also known as “crib death.”
Employed in engineering heating and cooling ventilation systems both residential and commercial, there was a sense of irony when Bill Schmid learned a component of SIDS involved the rebreathing of carbon dioxide.
“It can occur when a baby lies on its stomach, face down in bedding, and exhales and rebreathes carbon dioxide,” Schmid said of his findings. “We now know some babies don’t respond normally to that challenge, and need more air. Normally, a baby would move their head around, but in some babies, the sensors in their brain don’t respond properly and, instead, they suffocate.”
Drawing from personal experience and professional findings, Schmid created Haley Incorporated and rolled out the company’s first invention — a crib mattress designed to allow oxygen and carbon dioxide to pass through and decrease the risk of a fatal build up of carbon dioxide in an infant’s blood. The product was shared with SIDS researchers. While it was endorsed and sold a few mattresses, the product did not prove profitable enough to sustain the company.
In the meantime, the Schmids welcomed twin boys into the world.
Carefully guarded and armed with research regarding the silent killer that took their infant daughter, Bill and Cathy tried to follow the guidelines set forth in the Back to Sleep Campaign. Unfortunately, they soon discovered their boys preferred stomach sleeping.
“We just put our fate in God’s hands,” Bill said. “Fortunately, they did just fine; but it really, to me, signaled that not all babies will tolerate sleeping on their back – even some for medical reasons.
We decided we needed to do what we could do to prevent SIDS from happening to other babies and to help save parents from similar heartbreak.”
Through his tireless research, Bill came across information from the Netherlands regarding the use of sack-like garments to keep babies warm, secure and safe. Schmid quit his job and devoted his time to create a product that would replace loose blankets in the crib that can cover a baby’s face and interfere with breathing. Haley Incorporated eventually became HALO Innovations Incorporated; and, in 2001, the HALO SleepSack was born.
The SleepSack is similar to a small sleeping bag with arm holes, prohibiting babies from spreading their legs far enough to roll from their back to their stomach. Since 2005, the American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested the use of wearable blankets.
Today, HALO SleepSack wearable blankets are used nationwide to help babies sleep safely from the start.
The SleepSack also comes in a SleepSack Swaddle version, with wings for swaddling newborns and infants. The product is carried by many major retailers nationwide, as well as sold in Canada and Australia, Schmid noted.
In addition to the invention of this groundbreaking product, Schmid is also the creator of the HALO Safer Way to Sleep® Initiative, which is now implemented at more than 800 hospitals around the country and growing daily.
Essentia Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd implements the HALO Safer Way to Sleep program, which teaches new parents about safe sleep for baby before they even get home.
Teaching is done through observation and imitation – the parents model the behavior and techniques they see the nurses using on their baby in the hospital.
Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby participates in the program by gifting each new family with a HALO SleepSack Swaddle and information to implement at home.
“Before this program was implemented, a lot of hospitals were using blankets for wrapping and propping babies up. All things parents are told not to do at home. For a new parent, when you get home with a new baby, you probably will only remember what you saw the nurses doing. This program aims at trying to change that. We want all hospitals to change their standard of care practices.”
Since 2001, Schmid said much progress has been made in educating new parents of the risk factors and prevention measures associated with SIDS. However, Sudden Unexplained Death in Infancy (SUDI) and accidental deaths continue to create concern for the medical field and new, or expecting, parents.
“Ultimately, our hope is to not have any babies dying,” Schmid said. “Realistically, in the next couple of years, we want to reach at least half the babies born in the United States, expose them to the Safer Way to Sleep program – not just product usage, but also SIDS literature, and safe sleep literature. We want to continue to educate as many as we possibly can and eventually try to eradicate these unnecessary deaths.”
For more information on the Safer Way to Sleep Initiative, visit www.halosleep.com/safe_sleep_for_baby.