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Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 - 12:14 pm

‘Back to Sleep…By Myself’

By Erika Rose

Purdue Calumet nursing students take on SIDS battle

As part of their capstone course in nursing, Purdue Calumet students form a team and tackle a real issue in need of reform.

The projects, submitted by administrators from local healthcare institutions, enable students, not only to become involved in initiatives of significant importance, but also to help enact significant, health care policy change.

A project recently completed by Christina Pierzchalski of Crown Point, Amanda Kelley of Chesterton, Kathleen Hudson of Schererville and Carrie Tomko of Munster has the potential to save lives.

Through experiential learning of their capstone class, Pierzchalski, Kelley, Hudson and Tomko gained and shared valuable lessons about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Through experiential learning of their capstone class, Pierzchalski, Kelley, Hudson and Tomko gained and shared valuable lessons about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.


Researching causes of SIDS

Faced with an alarming number of cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in Lake County, the student nurses took on the task of researching causes of SIDS deaths, suspected to be related to co-sleeping.

As a way of communicating the importance of keeping infants close to their parents, but not in the same bed, pediatrician Dr. Janice Zunich of the Lake County Fatality Review Committee and director of the Indiana University Northwest genetics clinic, proposed the addition of “By Myself” to the national “Back to Sleep” campaign introduced in 1994,

But today’s nurses do not build campaigns and institute policy change based on novel ideas or mere speculation. Evidence-based support is necessary.


Evidence-based validation

So with guidance from faculty preceptor and Associate Professor of Nursing Gail Wegner and registered nurses Cassie Bass and Sue Heinzman of Crown Point’s St. Anthony Medical Center in Crown Point, the Purdue Calumet student nurses set out to attempt to validate that co-sleeping is indeed to blame in many SIDS deaths.

Their goal: finding evidence to support adding the “By Myself” component as a way to decrease the number of Northwest Indiana infant deaths due to asphyxiation.

After gathering evidence from sources such as the Fetal Infant Mortality Board and the Lake County Coroner’s Office, the students determined Dr. Zunich was correct in her assumption.


Statistics revealed:

  • 15 SIDS cases in 2007, eight of which were related to bed sharing;
  • 18 in 2008, five of which were related to bed sharing; and
  • 11 during the first six months of 2009, six of which were related to bed sharing.

Further, their research contradicted the notion that co-sleeping related deaths were related only to parents under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Next, the students worked to create a practice model, based on the evidence, not only for nurses to follow in the hospital, but also to educate parents, families and caregivers.

“The goal of this group was to educate nurses not to put babies on their tummies and not to swaddle them with bedrolls on the side, but to role model best practices for the parents that are watching them at the hospital,” Wegner says.

The model was immediately implemented at St. Anthony Medical Center, and plans are underway to extend the research and new practice model throughout Northwest Indiana and beyond.


Nurses must be educators

Nursing student Hudson says she values the education she received in learning how to educate the public, a primary job of a nurse.

“While you’re going through four years of school, you don’t always see the practical side of why educating as a nurse is so important,” she said. “You know more than the general public from going to nursing school, and you see how things impact the public, but the public doesn’t always see what exactly can happen and how devastating it can be to a family to have a child die from SIDS.”

Hudson added that the project-related findings she and her peers presented to St. Anthony administrators was a huge benefit to her education, not to mention an eye-opening experience to a different side of nursing.

“It was nice to see the education side of it and why it’s so important and why we need to educate the public on many topics,” she says.


‘…they can make a difference’

St. Anthony’s Heinzman says projects like these that bring reality to the classroom light a fire under the nursing students and thrill them with the idea that they can make a difference.

“This is real,” she said. “It’s not some project that got assigned, the students bring it to me and I stuff it in a file cabinet. . . When they went to talk to the coroner’s office, they were talking about real families. Isn’t that what community nursing is about? We are bringing back community impact into our facilities, so that our nurses from the day they are born can start modeling and mentoring patients.”

Bass called the privilege to work with the students on this project a gift.

“Twenty-five years ago as a nurse, you did it because you were told to do it,” she said. “You weren’t trained to look for any evidence behind it. That’s why this has been such a gift for me as an individual — to see that evidence is the major piece in all of this and that it really facilitates change.”