Published on September 29, 2016

Dawson’s Dream Develops from Mother’s Worst Nightmare

TUPELO, Miss.—Krissy Howell is turning her worst nightmare into safe, restful sleep for other new parents and their babies.

She and her husband, Chris, and their 2-year-old son, Presley, brought newborn Dawson home to Mantachie after a week-long stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Dawson was born five weeks prematurely on March 6. “He had pneumonia and was always very sickly,” she said.

Once baby Dawson was doing well, his mother returned to work as a stylist at Creative Touch Day Spa and Salon. On June 21, when Dawson was only 3 months and 15 days old, his mother got the horrific call. Dawson’s babysitter had found him unresponsive, a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

SIDS the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old. Sometimes called crib death because the infants often die in their cribs, SIDS may be associated with abnormalities in the portion of an infant’s brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep.

In the midst of her grief, Howell knew she had to do something redemptive. “I had a sudden urge,” she said. “I was just not okay with Dawson being gone and there not being anything good coming from it.”

That’s when Dawson’s Dream was born—a fund to provide home apnea monitors for NICU graduates during their first critical months at home. Apnea is pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while sleeping. Premature birth or being part of a multiple birth increases the likelihood that a baby’s brain hasn’t matured completely, so he or she has less control over such automatic processes as breathing and heart rate. For this reason, and because many infants who die of SIDS had recently had a respiratory infection, NICU babies are a greater risk than most.

About a month after Dawson died, his mother started a GoFundMe account online, which quickly brought in $2,700 in donations. She began selling Dawson’s Dream T-shirts and silicone awareness bracelets. She added her newfound hobby, painting original artwork, to the mix and set up a booth at the recent Mantachie Fest, which was extremely successful.

With a substantial start to Dawson’s Dream, she turned to the Health Care Foundation of North Mississippi to manage the fund.

North Mississippi Medical Center’s NICU sends an average of five babies each month home on apnea monitors rented through a local vendor, according to NICU social worker Christy Whitley. If the baby’s heart rate goes above 220 or drops below 80, or if the monitor senses no movement for 20 seconds, it sounds an alarm. “Usually the alarm itself will stimulate the baby enough to cause them to start breathing again,” Whitley said. “Of course the alarm wakes the parents as well.”

These home apnea monitors offer a few additional benefits unavailable with commerciallyavailable ones. “The baby’s data is stored on these monitors and can be downloaded onto a computer,” Whitley said. “This allows the baby’s pediatrician to see the times of apnea and the duration of each instance. Also, these monitors have a safety feature which makes it impossible to accidentally turn off.”

Most babies use a home apnea monitor for three to six months, until their doctor feels comfortable discontinuing it. “Some private insurance companies do not cover durable medical equipment like these monitors for babies,” Whitley said. “And for many parents, especially those without insurance or whose insurance doesn’t cover, renting the monitors can be very expensive.”

In these instances, Dawson’s Dream can help. All donations to this new fund are tax-deductible and will be used to help families who cannot afford to rent a home apnea monitor when the physician recommends one. 

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