About once a week, an infant dies unexpectedly in Cook County most likely in an unsafe sleeping situation, according to a Cook County study on Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUID) and Black infants are 16 times more likely to die from this syndrome vs. white babies.
Felicia Clark, health educator with CPASS Chicago, a safety initiative program for infants in partnership with the Rush Presbyterian Hospital, is busy trying to get that message out to mothers and those caring for infants.
“In Cook County alone, Black babies are 15 times more likely to die from SUID as opposed to white babies,” Clark said. “That is very alarming. We know this is happening in communities that are a majority of color on the South and West Sides of Chicago but more so on the South Side.”
She not only educates the parents but also anyone who comes into contact with the infant. “Some don’t think it is necessary to place the baby down in a safe position every time. The safest way to put a baby to sleep is to place the infant on his or her back,” Clark explained.
Clark, who is married to Bishop Thomas Clark, pastor of World Deliverance Church who works as the director for Events with Bishop Dr. Reginald J. Saffo, chairman of the Proviso Township Ministerial Network, is reaching out to ministers and the media to get the message out about the dangers of SUID and infant death.
When she was an investigator for the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, she had to investigate every death from birth to a year old who had died. “These were babies who were not expected to die. They were healthy and had a clean bill of health but died suddenly,” Clark told the Chicago Crusader.
With SUID death, Clark said, “Suffocation can occur or there is nothing that we can find chemically or medically to explain why they died.” When this happens, she said the infant’s death is automatically labeled SUID.
“If there is proof of suffocation or rollover, which we highly suspect most of them are, and if there is no proof on the autopsy, we have to call it SUID for lack of evidence.”
In 2019, Cook County conducted a SUID study along with the Presbyterian Hospital, which concluded that “Each year in the United States approximately 3,500 infants die suddenly and unexpectedly before their first birthday. These SUID are the leading threat to life between one month and one year old. For the past two decades, there has been little progress in preventing these deaths.”
According to the 2019 report, which is the first annual study, SUIDs in Cook County were added to a national surveillance system to shed light on the circumstances of these deaths and provide information that could aid in prevention.
“In 2019, we did a study of all of the 49 infant deaths who died for no expected reason and of that, all 49 were placed in the unsafe sleeping environment,” Clark said. “We found that all of the babies were placed in unsafe sleeping environments.”
Clark is trying to let all mothers know the proper way to put their infants to sleep. “We go out in the community, Park Districts, and churches, telling parents, grandparents, siblings, and caretakers on the proper way to put their infant to sleep. We tell them always placed infants on their backs with nothing in the crib which drastically reduces their deaths.
“In Cook County alone, Black babies are 16 times more likely to die from this as opposed to Caucasian babies which is very alarming,” said Clark.