COMMENTARY

Tragic Consequences of Ignorance for Everyone

William G. Wilkoff, MD

May 06, 2021

One of the top stories in the local newspaper recently described an unfortunate incident in which a previously healthy 19-month-old baby was found unresponsive and apneic in a crib at her day-care center. She was successfully resuscitated by the daycare provider but is now blind, has seizures, and no longer walks or talks. According to the day care owner, the child had not settled down during rest time and her talking was preventing the other children from sleeping. This apparently had happened before and the day-care provider had successfully resorted to triple wrapping the child in a blanket and placing her in a crib in a separate room. The day-care provider had checked on the child once and noted she was snoring. When the child failed to wake after the expected interval of time she was found face down with her head partially covered by a pillow.

Dr William Wilkoff

An investigation of the day-care center is ongoing and no reports or prior violations, warnings, or license suspensions have surfaced at this point. The day-care provider has been charged with aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child. The charges could carry a prison sentence of 30 years.

As I reread this very sad story I began wondering how this tragedy is going to unfold in the next months and years. We can assume one young life has already been permanently damaged. Her family will have to deal with the consequences of this event for decades or longer. What about the day-care provider? I hope we can assume that she intended no harm to the child nor had she ignored prior warnings or training about swaddling. Nor does this lapse in judgment fit a previous pattern of behavior. Regardless of what the courts decide she will carry some degree of guilt for the foreseeable future. The day-care center has been closed voluntarily and given that Maine is a small state where word travels fast it is unlikely that it will ever reopen.

Can we imagine any good coming out of this tragedy? It may be that with luck and diligent therapies that the little girl will be able to lead a life she finds rewarding and gives others some pleasure. It is possible that some individuals involved in her life – her parents or therapists – will find the devotion to her care brings new meaning to their lives.

Will the day-care provider find a new career or a cause that can help her restore some of the self worth she may have lost in the wake of the event? Or, will a protracted course through the legal system take its devastating toll on her life and marriage? It is unlikely that she will spend anywhere near 30 years in prison, if any at all. Will the child’s family sue this small family day-care center? It is hard to imagine they will recover anything more than a tiny fraction of the lifetime costs of this child’s care.

It is also unlikely that the message that swaddling children old enough to turn over carries a significant risk will go beyond one or two more stories in the local Maine newspapers. If this child’s father had been a professional football player or her mother had been an actress or U.S. Senator this tragic turn of events could possibly have stirred enough waters to grab national attention, spawn a foundation, or even result in legislation. But, she appears to come from a family with modest means without claims to notoriety. There is no flawed product to ban. She is a victim of ignorance and our failure to educate. As a result, her tragedy and those of thousands of other children will do little more than accumulate as unfortunate statistics.

William G. Wilkoff, MD, practiced primary care pediatrics in Brunswick, Maine, for nearly 40 years. He has authored several books on behavioral pediatrics, including “How to Say No to Your Toddler.” Other than a Littman stethoscope he accepted as a first-year medical student in 1966, he reports having nothing to disclose. Email him at pdnews@mdedge.com.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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