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VCU Health System raises awareness of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Babies in the VCU Medical Center’s newborn nursery proudly wear This Side Up T-shirts in support of SIDS awareness. 

Photo by Ash Daniel, VCU Creative Services
Babies in the VCU Medical Center’s newborn nursery proudly wear This Side Up T-shirts in support of SIDS awareness. Photo by Ash Daniel, VCU Creative Services

Babies of all hair color, sizes and beauty lay in the newborn nursery at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center’s Main Hospital. They were swaddled in pink and blue blankets. They donned tight-fitting cotton hats. Some slept. Some jabbered.
 
But there was a common thread that linked them together. Each baby wore a T-shirt with bright green letters on the front that read: “This Side Up.”
 
The T-shirts are the vision of Kyra Oliver Hitzeman, executive director of the Hayes Hitzeman Foundation.
 
It was four years ago that Oliver Hitzeman and her husband Ezra Hitzeman, lost a baby boy named Hayes to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The loss inspired Oliver Hitzeman to start a foundation in memory of her son.
 
The purpose is to provide a reminder to parents, grandparents, siblings, daycare providers and anyone else who cares for a baby that sleeping on the back is the safest position.
 
“SIDS is a sensitive subject that most parents often are afraid of discussing,” Oliver Hitzeman said. “And it tends to get lost in the shuffle with all the other advice parents receive on caring for their babies. We believe our ‘This Side Up’ T-shirts will foster more discussion.”
 
On the back of the T-shirts are additional tips that may reduce the risk of SIDS like giving a baby a pacifier at nap or bed time and not smoking around the infant.
 
Oliver Hitzeman met with VCU Health System officials last fall to discuss a partnership. That meeting led to the health system’s commitment to funding the production and distribution of “This Side Up” T-shirts at the hospital for the next year.
 
“It’s a wonderful partnership,” said Dr. Linda D. Meloy, director of the Newborn Nursery. “The newborn babies will have these shirts on here at the hospital so we can role model back to sleep. The words serve as a teaching tool for parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles of back to sleep and serve as reminder to parents each time they look at their newborn. I think this is a great way to communicate the message.”
 
The meeting also spawned another way to spread the word.
 
“The beautiful thing, and it’s to VCU Health System’s credit, is that they came up with the idea that maybe the laundry service can distribute these,” Oliver Hitzeman said.
 
Virginia Hospital Laundry, Inc. agreed to make the T-shirts a standard article of clothing in the nine statewide hospitals it services.  
 
“It’s so exciting that because VCU Health System spoke up and helped make it happen, we’re now reaching out to so many more families,” Oliver Hitzeman said.

A set of newborn twins is shown in these pink and blue swaddles, which also are given to every baby born at the VCU Medical Center. The front of each swaddle reads “back to sleep.” 

Photo by Ash Daniel, VCU Creative Services
A set of newborn twins is shown in these pink and blue swaddles, which also are given to every baby born at the VCU Medical Center. The front of each swaddle reads “back to sleep.” Photo by Ash Daniel, VCU Creative Services

Kym Gee, nurse manager for the Mother/Infant Unit, works with hundreds of babies every year. She also understands the importance of the message.
 
“Our patient population has a lot of co-sleeping, whether it’s the baby with the mom or the baby with siblings in the room,” Gee said. “We felt we needed more than just telling them words. We needed something visible and in their hands.”
 
The Richmond-based Hayes Hitzeman Foundation was started in 2002 and has raised more than $150,000 for SIDS research.
 
“My hopes are to save the lives of infants and for parents and family members to understand that it’s our job as caregivers to be in the know, to be educated,” Oliver Hitzeman said. “And I really want to take ‘This Side Up’ to the national level and reach more people with the message.”
 
According to the National SIDS/Infant Death Resource Center, SIDS is the major cause of death in infants from 1 month to 1 year of age, with most deaths occurring between 2 and 4 months. SIDS researchers and clinicians continue to try to identify risk factors that can be modified or controlled to reduce an infant's risk for SIDS.
 
For more information, call 708-0033 or visit www.thissideupcampaign.org.