The hardest part of building Aeron’s Foundation has been to share the personal story of Aeron and our devastating loss.
He is our precious little boy. When he was born, he looked just like his older sister when she was an infant. They bonded immediately, and one of our favorite moments came just after he was born, when his sister met him for the first time and gave him a sweet, gentle hug.
He was 100% a mama’s boy. He loved snuggling with Jenn while nursing, loved being held by her, and would always crawl over to her instead of me (dad). It made me a little jealous, but even I would pick her over me so I had no hard feelings toward our little man.
As he grew older, Aeron loved getting into trouble and he was very good at it since he was so quiet. We called him our “silent ninja.” Within moments, he would crawl across the living room to spill the water in the dog bowl, or somehow manage to open a Play-Doh container to eat before we found him with a mouth full of bright blue Play-Doh. He was clearly in a “put everything in his mouth” phase.
We enjoyed all of the 2017 holidays with our sweet boy. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day of 2018 were full of blessings for our growing family. Unfortunately, my (James’) birthday of that year would be all too memorable.
Aeron was 10 months old in February 2018, and we had just come back from a birthday brunch celebration with friends and family. We were all tired. Jenn nursed Aeron and put him down for a nap in his crib before leaving for work at the hospital, and I fell asleep on the couch. Aeron was never the best napper, and I remember waking up from my own nap in a bit of a panic since I had not heard him cry for several hours. I ran into the bedroom and found him entangled in a blanket. Thinking back now, I already knew at that moment what had happened and I started to scream as I unwrapped him from the blanket. He was already stiff and he was not breathing.
One of our friends had just come over for my birthday, and did not yet know what was going on. I quickly told her to call 911 while I started CPR. Realizing the situation, she called 911 and took my daughter and her sons (toddlers) to another room, to shield them from what was happening. My wife came home just as the ambulance was arriving, to the shocking scene of me performing CPR on Aeron, and our friend trying to explain what was happening in the midst of several toddlers crying, either from the chaos or just from shock.
We made it to the emergency department. The doctors continued to perform CPR and attempted life saving measures. Although as parents we tend to cling onto any small ounce of hope when it comes to our children, from how little Aeron had responded to what was being done, I knew that he had passed. I was mentally bracing myself to spend the rest of the night with Aeron and my wife in the ER grieving and arranging for whatever needs to be done after a child dies. What I did not anticipate was a continued nightmare of questions from police detectives, being separated from my wife and Aeron to go back home and re-enact the worst moment of my life, step-by-step in excruciating detail, so that they could ensure no foul play had occurred.
The rational part of me understands, though, and is perhaps even thankful for the thoroughness of their investigation. A baby died. They have to investigate. Unfortunately, this is just one of many painful experiences that families who encounter SIDS must endure in the wake of what is probably the worst event of their lives. People have told me that tragic events often end up as a blur in their head. For me, however, everything remains crystal clear.
I will never forget that day. The celebration, the exhaustion, the panic, shock, and finally the pain. Images from Aeron’s last day continue to play in my mind. The one thing that always comes back me is the strong feeling of regret, that this may have been preventable. Despite ten months of following recommendations to keep my children safe, one moment of complacency led to the worse day of my family’s life. After all, Aeron didn’t seem like an infant anymore — he had been rolling around for months, he was almost walking, and he was so strong and healthy. We learned the hard way, that there is just no justification for taking any risk. Unfortunately, that is all it takes. One mistake. One moment.
That one moment is something that we would never wish upon any loving family. Aeron’s Foundation is here to promote awareness of safe sleeping habits for infants and families. As a pediatrician, I “take” Aeron with me to work daily. I talk to my patients about him all the time. If he can’t physically be with me and my family, I want him to be with me and to play a role in the care that I provide for my families and for the community. I want Aeron’s story to have an impact on parents, so that they will ensure that their children sleep safely. Even so, despite all of our efforts at prevention, those one moments will inevitably occur. Bad luck happens. Mistakes happen. For those families who end up with those moments, we know your pain and we want to support you.
Dr. James Lee, M.D.
President, Aeron’s Foundation