LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS 11)--One to three babies die every month in Jefferson County to what’s known as SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. But experts say in most cases, the death isn’t a mystery. It's caused by something you as a parent can prevent, unsafe sleeping conditions.
"In our family case, we don't know if it was a SIDS death, but we know it was an unsafe sleep environment and Sam was doing exactly what every father loves to do, holding his son on his chest, watching ESPN. What better thing could you do with your newborn? He got Charlie to sleep and when Sam fell asleep, he woke up and Charlie didn't. That's a nightmare, Sam lives with every day," Gary Hanke, Charlie's grandfather said.
Charlie was just three weeks old.
"I'll never forget that phone call at 2 o'clock in the morning when the phone rang. I knew something was wrong and it was Sam on the other end, saying, 'I think we lost Charlie.' I didn't know what that meant. I said, 'what do you mean?' He said, 'Dad, I had him on the couch. I woke up and he wasn't breathing and I think we lost him.' So, we jumped in the car and got up there as fast as we could and five minutes down the road, got the call saying he didn't make it," Hanke said.
Charlie died on April 28, 2010.
"We walked into that hospital room and Sam and Maura were both there. Maura was holding Charlie and she hands him to me like I'm supposed to fix it. God, I prayed. I prayed he'd take me and leave him. But of course, that doesn't happen. It's the worst experience any family could have," Hanke said.
Seven years later, the pain is still present for the Hanke family. But their tragedy has become the ultimate lesson for other parents of infants. In 2011, Charlie's Kids Foundation was established to spread the word of safe sleep environments - and reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Hanke says even today, there isn't much funding or research for SIDS, but a number of states are getting better at educating new and older parents and inspiring them to practice what they learn. In Tennessee, all birthing hospitals must meet a stricter standard, which in the last two years has decreased infant mortality by 25 percent. Georgia's on the same path and in Kentucky, its HANDS program is a voluntary home visitation for expectant and new parents looking to provide those safe environments for their baby.
"In the state, it's a baby every five days. That's huge for Kentucky. We are one of the worst in the country for sleep-related deaths," Erika Janes, with Safe Kids Louisville said.
Janes says these deaths could be prevented.
"If we had a baby that was alone, not lonely, in their own crib on their back, for that baby to just mysteriously die, we don't see that. That to me would be a pure SIDS, something that's unexplained. But that's not what we're seeing. There's a risk factor for every baby we're losing in this town," Janes said.
The majority of infant deaths occur when the baby is laying on a parents chest, in bed with the parent or in a crib surrounded by items like blankets, bumpers or toys. In other words, they suffocate.
"Nationally, 90 percent of SIDS happens by 6 months old. Our peak time is two to four months of age. But we want you to do the sleep safe things for the first year of life," Janes said.
Janes says you need to follow the ABC's.
A. Stay close, sleep Alone.
B. Lay them on their Back.
C. In the Crib, with a sheet and pacifier only. The swaddling stops after 2 months. And if they fall asleep in the car seat, take them out.
D. Avoid Dangers involving alcohol, drugs or smoking, which Janes says is a huge risk factor for SIDS.
For the Hanke family, these are the rules to live by.
"You just can't ever relax those standards. It only takes a few minutes," Hanke said. "Safe sleep. Your baby's worth it."
The Hanke's published the children's book, Sleep Baby, Safe and Snug in an effort to further address SIDs and safe sleep. They've distributed the book to more than two million families and hospitals.
"I love my crib, both day and night. No pillows or blankets, just me - just right."