Baby Briggs was the perfect addition to the West family.
His big brothers, Brock, Brodie and Braxton, loved to cover him with hugs and kisses. Briggs, who was born on Nov. 7, loved to be held. His two older brothers loved to talk to him about sports and would try to get him to hold a ball — a not-so-subtle way of getting him ready for a sports-filled future.
But it was a future the Norfolk family would never know.
Briggs died from sudden unexpected infant death syndrome on Jan. 18, after being placed on his stomach at daycare.
Today, Melissa West has turned her tragedy into a way to spread awareness about SIDS — and hopefully stop another parent from losing a child to it.
That day started like any other day. West woke up and started the family’s normal routine. Briggs was happy and smiling — “just a perfectly healthy baby,” she said.
West, who was still on maternity leave, dropped him off at daycare at 9:30 a.m. She had planned on leaving him for a few hours so the provider could get to know him before he started attending full time the following week.
Around noon, West received a phone call that forever changed her and her family’s lives.
“’Melissa, Briggs is not breathing! It’s not good!’” West remembers her daycare provider telling her. “I hung up and just drove. I had no idea where I was driving. I put on my caution lights and sped through town.”
West called husband, Shawn, and told him, “Don’t ask questions, just run out of work and drive to the hospital now.”
West was the first to arrive at the hospital where she was ushered to a private waiting room. A chaplain came to be with her. West said it felt like hours until they came to get her and brought her to the trauma room.
“There was a team working on Briggs. I laid over him as they worked on him and just cried and prayed to Jesus saying the Lord’s Prayer over and over,” she said.
When her husband arrived, doctors pulled the couple away and said there was nothing more they could do.
“I just laid and cried over my baby and told him to go fly with the angels,” West said. “In that tragic moment, there was peace as the nurses in the room wrapped my beautiful baby boy in a blue quilted blanket and handed him to me. I rocked for what felt like hours with Briggs as I just stared at his beautiful face and sang lullabies to him in between prayers. He looked so happy and peaceful.”
After Briggs’ funeral, the couple found out he had been put to sleep on his stomach that day. His death certificate states the cause of death as “sudden unexplained infant death associated with prone positioning.”
About 3,500 babies in the United States die suddenly and unexpectedly each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sudden unexpected infant deaths include sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), accidental suffocation in a sleeping environment and other deaths from unknown causes.
Additionally, “side or prone sleep position remains an important risk factor associated with SIDS. Prone sleeping can increase the risk of rebreathing expired gases and overheating, and compromises cerebral oxygenation, autonomic control of the cardiovascular system and arousal,” according to an article in the Journal of Pediatrics.
After Briggs’ death, Melissa received a private Facebook message from a fellow mom, Allison Uecker, whose son, Barrett, died from SIDs in December 2017.
“Since Barrett passed away, it has made me realize just how fragile and short life can be. One minute you have all of these hopes and dreams for your child and the next minute your whole world comes crashing down,” Uecker said.
Weeks later, both West and Uecker felt a desire to keep their children’s names alive and so The Briggs and Barrett Project was born.
“I created this project with Melissa to help educate other parents on SIDS and safe sleep to help prevent this terrible tragedy from happening to another parent,” Uecker said.
The project’s mission is to provide tools, resources and education on SIDS and safe sleep. They currently provide all newborns born at Faith Regional Hospital in Norfolk with Halo Sleep Swaddles and a book called, “Sleep Baby Safe and Snug.”
“SIDS is not talked about; almost like it’s a secret,” West, 34, said. “We have made it our goal to change that with The Briggs and Barrett Project. I have shared Briggs’ story with raw facts on that day and what happened to him. A parent doesn’t think it will happen to them until it happens to them.”
West said she has received hundreds of messages from individuals in and around Norfolk, as well as through the United States who have heard Briggs’ and Barrett’s stories.
“This is our goal. The awareness is getting out there,” West said.
West and Uecker hope to eventually expand throughout Nebraska and beyond.
Briggs continues to be a part of the family’s daily lives — through prayers, thoughts, memories, conversations and The Briggs and Barrett Project.
“Briggs is moving mountains from heaven. He is helping us in the outreach of SIDS education and helping spread the awareness of safe sleep and SIDS in his and Barrett’s name,” West said. “We will continue our mission in the years to come in honor of these boys.”
Tips for creating a safe sleep environment
• Place the baby on his or her back on a firm sleep surface such as a crib or bassinet with a tight-fitting sheet.
• Avoid use of soft bedding, including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows and soft toys. The crib should be bare.
• Share a bedroom with parents, but not the same sleeping surface, preferably until the baby turns 1 but at least for the first six months. Room-sharing decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent.
• Avoid baby’s exposure to smoke, alcohol and illicit drugs.
• Skin-to-skin care is recommended, regardless of feeding or delivery method, immediately following birth for at least an hour as soon as the mother is medically stable and awake.
• Breastfeeding is also recommended as adding protection against SIDS. After feeding, the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to move the baby to his or her separate sleeping space, preferably a crib or bassinet in the parents’ bedroom.
• Offer a pacifier at nap time and bedtime.
• Do not use home monitors or commercial devices, including wedges or positioners, marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS.
• Infants should receive all recommended vaccinations.
• Supervised, awake tummy time is recommended daily to facilitate development.
While infants are at heightened risk for SIDS between the ages 1 and 4 months, new evidence shows that soft bedding continues to pose hazards to babies who are 4 months and older.