Tragedy leads to a passion to educate parents

Of the tragedies a parent can endure, perhaps none is more heart wrenching than the loss of a child. Jen Hittle, a nurse at IU Health Arnett and consultant in the Clinical Risk Management department, believes in finding the good in every situation. She has made it her mission to spread the word on the importance of safe sleep practices for infants since her son Brenton passed away in 2013. “Sharing Brenton’s story is not easy, but I hope by sharing, I will help open people’s eyes and hearts,” Jen says, “I have been given the opportunity to educate and bring awareness to such an important issue and hopefully it will make a difference and decrease the chance of it happening to others’ loved ones.”

Jen and her husband Brock welcomed their fifth child, Brenton, into the world on July 19, 2012. He was a happy, healthy baby boy. Being the youngest of five, he was surrounded the by love and spoiled by his parents and older siblings. At just 6 months and 5 days old, Brenton passed away, a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). He was at the sitter’s, put down for a nap in his pack in play on his tummy with his blanket. The sitter went to check on him and he was not breathing. Even with the quick work of paramedics, they were unable to bring him back. They found nothing wrong with him and determined the final cause of death as SIDS.

With Jen’s medical background, she had a hard time wrapping her mind around not knowing what caused her son’s death. She reached out to SIDS researchers to see if they could give her a reason why. Researchers responded to her, letting her know of strong findings that SIDS is caused by a defect in the part of the brain that controls breathing, heart rate, etc., while sleeping. Babies who have this defect look and act completely normal during the day, but defects are unmasked during sleep. These findings helped Jen understand the importance of the “why” behind safe sleep practices.

It was Jen’s heartbreaking journey that led her mission to educate people on the importance of safe sleep practices. Whether it be talking at local high schools, to future parents, seasoned parents, babysitters or fellow team members—Jen and her family share Brenton’s story to bring awareness to SIDS and the significance of safe sleep.

She wants to encourage all to listen to their healthcare providers on safe sleep techniques. “I know as an experienced mom with several older children it is not easy to practice safe sleep,” Jen says, “But it is definitely worth it. They are knowledgeable and have our best interest at heart.”

Approximately 3,500 infants die annually in the United States from sleep-related deaths. Even though this statistic is alarming, many of these deaths are preventable. Learn the ABC’s of Safe Sleep.

Alone – Babies should always be on their own sleep surface. Bed sharing is a risk factor for SIDS and other sleep related deaths.

Back – Babies should be on their backs for every sleep.

Crib – The crib should be empty. This means no bumper pads, pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, toys or supplies such as diapers and diaper wipes.