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13 Akron babies have died from unsafe sleep in 2 years

Parents, police urge ABC's of safe sleep
Posted at 5:20 PM, Nov 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-03 18:54:34-04

AKRON, Ohio — After losing their 10-week-old baby girl, Molly, from an unsafe sleep situation six years ago, Meagen and Jeff Gries understand there's no explanation necessary to those who know their pain, but for those who don't know that pain, there's no explanation that's possible.

"When I think back to the time I did have with her, there just wasn't enough," said Jeff Gries as he fought back tears. "There wasn't enough time, but there wasn't enough time for anybody."

The couple empathizes with families in Akron that have dealt with the same heartache over the past two years.

Akron police said there have been 13 cases of babies, between 10-days and 11-months-old that have accidentally suffocated since 2020.

Most of the deaths resulted from co-sleeping when a parent or other caregiver slept on the same bed and rolled over on the infant. However, other tragedies occurred when babies suffocated on items like blankets in cribs.

"It's just devastating because I know what those families are going through," said Meagen Gries.

In 2015, Gries had just finished her maternity leave and dropped off Molly at her babysitter's home before heading to her job as a school teacher.

"It was my first day back at work and I got a phone call that our sitter had found her unresponsive," she said.

Molly was taken to Akron Children's Hospital where she passed away. The Summit County Medical Examiner eventually ruled she died from positional asphyxia after suffocating on blankets that were in the crib.

"She was swaddled and propped on her side and rolled onto her belly and was unable to lift her head," Gries said.

Akron Detective Jerry Gachett said he and other officers in his unit have investigated too many of these heartbreaking deaths over the years.

"I never get used to going to a call where there's a child that has died over co-sleeping or positional asphyxia," Gachett said.

Gachett stressed most of the tragedies are preventable, but more people engage in unsafe sleep habits than the department would like. The detective told News 5 he has never filed any criminal charges in any of the cases that resulted in a baby's death.

"I think that the fact this accident occurred to their child, I don't think they would ever forget that so sometimes that's their prison," Gachett said.

Akron 911 dispatcher Elizabeth Johnson has experienced the heartache on the other end of the line when taking calls from panicked parents or caregivers after unsafe sleep turns tragic.

"You even go as far at to think, I'm a mother. How would I feel if I lost my child?" Johnson said.

Meagen and Jeff Gries, who have two other children, started the Molly Ann Gries Foundation as a way to remember their baby and to remind others about safe sleep practices.

"It's tragic and it's deeply impactful so we don't want it to happen to anyone," Jeff Gries said.

The couple partners with Akron Children's Hospital and stresses the ABC's of putting babies to sleep safely.

The A stands for Alone. The B stands for on their Backs. The C stands for in an empty Crib.

Hospital officials offer more tips, including using a firm sleep surface and a fitted sheet, no blankets, bumper pads, or toys, and returning the baby to the crib after breastfeeding.

Akron Children's also partners with several agencies in Summit, Medina, Portage, and Wayne counties to provide cribs to families.

Eligible families can receive one portable crib through the Cribs for Kids program.

Requirements include families not having a safe sleep space. They must also be eligible for benefits such as SNAP or Medicaid, and they must be at least 32 weeks pregnant or have a child under the age of one.

Meagen Gries believes that by sharing Molly's story as much as possible, she is helping prevent other parents from experiencing the pain of losing a baby.

"Knowing that those deaths could have been prevented is probably the hardest part," she said. "This doesn't have to be their fate. Babies aren't supposed to die."