BEL AIR, Md. – The last bedtime of 17-month-old Hayden Fell’s life was heartbreakingly normal. His parents had no idea that it would be the last time they would see their son alive. The toddler was playing happily in his pajamas, accompanied by his twin brother and sister, singing “Wheels on the Bus”.
The next morning, Hayden’s father found that he couldn’t wake him, signaling the start of a chain of events that would change their lives forever. The tot had become one of the hundreds of seemingly healthy U.S. toddlers and preschoolers who suddenly die in their sleep each year, and autopsies can’t reveal the reason for their deaths. Thankfully, Hayden’s crib cam was recording all night — and offered a clue.
Research from NYU Langone Health has shown that seizures during sleep are a potential cause of at least some sudden unexplained deaths in childhood (SUDC). The term SUDC is used when these mysterious deaths occur any time after a child’s first birthday, and very little is known about it. Scientists have long suspected seizures may play a role, and recent findings have linked at least five toddler deaths to seizures captured on video recordings from home monitoring.
The recordings can’t conclusively prove that fevers triggered the seizures, but researchers noted that several toddlers had signs of mild infections. This raises a big question: how could anyone determine if fevers and seizures might be a warning of something more serious, especially when febrile seizures are common in young children?
SUDC is estimated to claim over 400 lives a year in the U.S., mostly during sleep, and just over half of these deaths occur in 1- to 4-year-olds. The Fells, like many others, had never even heard of SUDC until Hayden died.
Hayden’s experience with seizures and mild infections is part of a growing body of evidence that indicates a potential link between fevers, seizures, and sudden unexplained deaths in children. The new study offers the first direct evidence of this link and suggests that further research is needed to understand and prevent such tragic deaths.