Infant deaths decreasing

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Lafourche Parish officials say new statistics show a notable decline in infant deaths, from all time highs just over five years ago to three in 2013, and one in 2014.

Two of the babies killed in 2014 were victims of homicides. The remaining death was of a nature that officials have been working steadily – and apparently effectively – to reduce. Accidental deaths of infants while sleeping in a bed with parents or other caregivers, is a leading mortality cause nationally. Lafourche Parish Coroner John King began a public awareness program from the time he took office, when the accidental infant death number for Lafourche stood at a tragic 14.

His chief investigator, Mark Goldman, headed up the program, and has lectured on the issue across the U.S.

“One death is too many,” Goldman said. “But we have seen where education of the public has made a difference.”

Infant death coroner cases are different from overall infant mortality rates, which include deaths at hospitals or from issues related to premature birth.

The focus of education campaigns like King’s is the deaths from people rolling over babies, or accidental suffocation in bedclothes.

Both Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes have consistently remained below statewide averages in terms of infant mortality.

Reports from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals show the state’s infant mortality rate overall – the number of deaths per 1,000 live births – at 9.0, the third highest in the U.S. Terrebonne stands at 6.4 with Lafourche at 6.9.

In Terrebonne Parish, progress has also been made.

“The numbers have gone down,” said Danny Theriot, chief investigator for Terrebonne Coroner Victor Tedesco.

Theriot said the parish suffered six infant deaths in 2011 and 2012, four in 2013 and three in 2014.

The accidental infant deaths that coroners investigate, Goldman said, are particularly poignant because they are preventable through education.

That’s why he and other officials who have the grim task of working directly with such cases say getting the word to parents and other caregivers is so important.

“It is incredible that we were one of the worst in the country at one point and now we have got the numbers down,” Goldman said. “It shows that you don’t have to have a lot of funding. Everything we are doing so far as instructions is free, it doesn’t cost anything.”

Nicole Soudelier, maternal and child health coordinator for the Department of Health and Hospitals Region III, which includes Terrebonne and Lafourche, has worked with Goldman on some of the educational programs.

“The education part is a key component for all caregivers, not just parents,” she said. “Historically, sleep practices have changed, because a lot of times grandparents or other relatives are caring for the children and they might not know. The sleep positioning is now to place the child always on the back.”

Soudelier, echoing Goldman’s assertion that one death is too many, is nonetheless encouraged by Lafourche’s decline in infant mortalities.

“Any decline in the numbers means lives were saved,” she said.

Lafourche Parish Coroner’s investigator Mark Goldman gives a presentation to members of the Chackbay Volunteer Fire Department that includes information of infant deaths due to suffocation.