SIDS study could connect mysterious death to inner ear problem

Courtesy Kahan family.

SEATTLE (KOMO) -- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is one of the most baffling and most devastating tragedies new parents can face. No one knows what causes SIDS, but a local doctor believes a hearing test could hold the key.

Aaron Kahan was born in October of 2003. He was the first baby boy in a family with three big sisters. But mementos from his birth barely cover a table top.

"This is all we have," his mother Heather Kahan said. "All we have."

Aaron's father John Kahan added, "The fact is, we don't have many pictures. We only have a couple."

Just eight hours after he was born, Aaron stopped breathing in his sleep.

"After a completely normal pregnancy, three healthy older children, not in our wildest dreams could we have thought something like this could happen," Heather said. She described Aaron's birth as perfectly normal, with sleeping, crying and learning to feed. "He went to sleep and about 15 mins later, a nurse came in to check on both of us. That's when she discovered that he was not breathing."

Doctors were able to get Aaron's heart started again and moved him to Seattle Children's Hospital. But he died two days later.

"The cause of death was listed as SIDS. which as we've learned, means nobody knows what happened," Heather said.

Researchers just launched a two year study to unravel the mystery of SIDS. There's already an indication the key could be in the newborn hearing test. Doctors at Seattle Children's partnered with researchers in the U.K. to see if babies who have an inner-ear defect, even a mild one, are more at risk of suffocating in their sleep.

Dr. Daniel Rubens thinks the ear problem might cause a crisis. "They're not making the arousal movements that the other (healthy) one would do, for example if the airway was obstructed or they simply need to wake up from sleep to move or to breathe," Dr. Rubens said. "The goal would be to have a comprehensive, accurate assessment. This needs to be really accurate so that we will pick up the babies that are at risk."

The Kahans are supporting the research, which they call the most promising theory they've seen since Aaron died 13 years ago.

"We had to do something about this," John said. "We had to make sure it didn't happen to us again. We had to make sure it didn't happen to our friends and family and anyone else again."

With that determination and despite fears, John and Heather became parents again and now have four daughters.

And, there is now a baby boy in the family. Their grandson Kaizer is healthy, happy and a precious reminder of the need to end SIDS.

"Now I feel hopeful. Incredibly hopeful," John said.

The study just got underway this month, but researchers need additional funding. You can contribute through Seattle Children's Hospital. John Kahan is also climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in June to help raise money and SIDS awareness.

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