Skip Navigation


Lessons from the DeadChris Hartlove

Lessons from the Dead (continued)

For the past 15 years, Cumpsty-Fowler has served on national and state child death review committees as well as on the panel for Baltimore County. In Maryland, 24 teams cover the state’s counties and Baltimore City. Composed of representatives from the medical examiner’s office, law enforcement, emergency medical services, social services, schools, pediatrics and public health, the groups review all cases of sudden and unexplained deaths.

 In Maryland, the most common causes of death in children over the age of one year are motor vehicle crashes, homicides and suicides, according to the DHMH. For infants between one month and a year of age, the leading cause is related to sleep environments and includes sudden unexpected infant death, accidental suffocation and strangulation.

With each breath, infants “shift” just a half-ounce of air. Lying too close to a parent or a toy can be lethal. —Dave Fowler and Carolyn Cumpsty-Fowler

For the past several years, Cumpsty-Fowler has worked with pediatrician and child abuse expert Scott Krugman, now chairman of Baltimore County’s child death review panel, to educate the public and health professionals about safe sleeping environments for infants. Because research shows that babies who sleep in their parents’ beds are 20 times more likely to suffocate than those who sleep alone, Krugman and Cumpsty-Fowler are determined to change social norms and make bed sharing with young infants unacceptable.

“Most infants in Baltimore County who die, die from preventable sleep-related [causes],” Cumpsty-Fowler says. “Most were in an adult bed.” She says suffocation can occur if a parent rolls over on an infant or a baby gets trapped under a pillow or caught between the bed and the wall. But death can also come merely from lying so close to a parent that there is only a small pocket of air for the child to breathe. When an infant lacks the motor skills to roll over or shift position, re-breathing the same air, increasingly filled with exhaled carbon dioxide, can lead to oxygen deficiency and death.

Franklin Square Hospital, where Krugman directs the department of pediatrics, now requires new parents to sign statements that they have received counseling about safe sleep before leaving the hospital with their newborns. (The Johns Hopkins Hospital has similar requirements for new mothers.)


* = required field

Read about our policy on comments to magazine articles.

design element
Online Extras

Student Videos

Student Videos

Estefania De La Paz shares the traditions surrounding the Day of the Dead in Mexico.

Watch Now

Talk to Us

Amazed? Enthralled? Disappointed? We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts on articles and your ideas for new stories:

Download the PDF

Get a copy of all Section articles in PDF format. Read stories offline, optimized for printing.

Death and Data (3.9MB)
Death and Lifespan (2.0MB)
Death and Learning (2.1MB)