Our Views: Credit detectives with helping save babies in Janesville

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

It's hard to imagine a more valuable service that two Janesville police detectives could  perform. Statistics suggest Erik Goth and Christopher Buescher are saving the lives of babies.

From 2005 to 2010, a dozen Janesville infants less than 1 year old died in their sleep, Jake Magee reported in Friday's Gazette. Eight had been sleeping on their stomachs. Three others were sleeping with parents.

Goth said that, by 2011, he was weary of attending infant autopsies. He contacted the Rock County Health Department, pushed legislation to spread awareness of safe sleeping habits and has partnered with Janesville's hospitals to teach prenatal classes.

Buescher instructs classes when Goth isn't available. To Buescher, the service is personal. He lost a brother to sudden infant death syndrome in 1973. The detectives teach about 50 classes a year.

Making sure babies have safe sleeping arrangements is “by far the most preventable cause of death that I'm aware of,” Goth told Magee.

“It's not simply the classes that I'm doing. This info is being widely discussed in the media. It's a combination of things. The bottom-line message is getting through and having an impact on infant deaths.”

Janesville has suffered no preventable, sleep-related infant deaths since 2011. That's remarkable. Obviously, the word is getting out.

Still, Goth says, those who attend the classes do so because they're aware of proper infant care and want to learn more. He's concerned about those parents they're not attracting.

Health officials recommend that babies sleep on their backs and near parents but not in the same beds. A mother can unwittingly suffocate her baby while sleeping with the child. In some cases, infants have suffocated when their mothers nodded off while breastfeeding.

A baby should sleep in a crib on a firm mattress with a single sheet and without a blanket, stuffed animals, fluffy bumper pads or pillows. If pajamas are warm enough for the room, they're warm enough to sleep in, Goth says. Never let a baby sleep on a couch, chair or waterbed. Remove hanging mobiles and objects with strings, ties or sharp edges within reach.

Many infant deaths in Milwaukee have been attributed to unsafe sleeping arrangements. In recent years, a “Sleep Safe” awareness campaign has helped reduced the death toll in Milwaukee.

Rock County statistics show this isn't just an urban problem. As Gina Duwe reported in Sunday's Gazette, the county health department has used a $150,000 grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program to assemble a team of health professionals that will review infant and fetal deaths. State data suggest Rock County suffers between 20 and 25 such deaths annually. The team will review health records with the identification removed and interview willing parents. The team will try to determine and fill gaps in service.

One gap that is narrowing is education about safe sleeping arrangements. Erik Goth and Christopher Buescher deserve great credit for helping fill that void.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper's editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.

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