Crib Cam Video Offers Clue to the Mysterious Deaths of Sleeping Toddlers

Bel Air, Maryland – The last bedtime of 17-month-old Hayden Fell was a heartbreakingly normal one. His parents and sister sang “Wheels on the Bus” with his twin brother as the toddler played happily in his pajamas. However, the next morning, Hayden’s dad found that he couldn’t wake him. The seemingly healthy toddler had become one of several hundred U.S. toddlers and preschoolers who die suddenly in their sleep each year, and autopsies can’t determine the cause. However, the crib cam recorded the entire night and offered a clue.

Seizures during sleep are a potential cause of at least some cases of sudden unexplained death in childhood, or SUDC. Researchers at NYU Langone Health reported that after analyzing home monitoring video that captured the deaths of seven sleeping toddlers. SUDC occurs any time after a child’s first birthday, similar to SIDS in babies. Little is known about SUDC, but some scientists have long suspected seizures may play a role. In addition to genetics research, a history of fever-related seizures was about 10 times more likely among the children who died suddenly than among others the same age.

The new study is small but offers the first direct evidence of a seizure link. Five of the toddlers died shortly after movements deemed to be a brief seizure, and a sixth child probably also had one, according to findings published online by the journal Neurology. The recordings can’t prove fevers triggered the seizures, but researchers noted several toddlers had signs of mild infections.

SUDC claims over 400 lives a year in the U.S., with over half occurring in 1- to 4-year-olds. Sudden death in babies occurs more often and gets more public attention than SUDC. Hayden, for instance, had his first seizure shortly before his first birthday, triggered by a cold-like virus. Other recent studies have hunted genetic links to SUDC, finding that some children harbored mutations in genes associated with heart or brain disorders.

Parents of children who experience febrile seizures should not panic about every seizure, cautioned one expert. However, additional research, including animal studies and possibly sleep studies in children, is needed to better understand the possible warning signs linked to these seizures.

In conclusion, the life of Hayden Fell was too precious and important for his family to not seek answers in the face of the tragedy. SUDC claims hundreds of lives each year and more research is needed to identify potential warning signs and risk factors for these sudden deaths.