Forsyth County child mortality rate remains high

by Brittany Mollis

When faced with tragedy, people often look for logic and reason. People crave the comfort of knowing why and how something happened. It is possible that having the answers offers them closure. Without answers or reasons, their minds wander, and they question everything that could have gone wrong. They spend the rest of their lives thinking about the day tragedy struck, and they think about all the things they should have done to prevent it. People aren’t wired to accept explanations that don’t offer support with numbers, statistics or proof. Some people never receive the answers they crave.

On March 25, 2013, Tiffany and Russ Kratzer kissed their son, Jacob, for the last time.

“On March 23, 2013, he went to bed after a fun day spent with his family and friends, and the next day he did not wake up,” the Kratzers explain.

Jacob Edwin Kratzer was only 27-months old at the time of his passing. After investigating Jacob’s death, it was determined that Jacob died from Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC). SUDC is the sudden and unexpected death of a child over the age of twelve months that remains unexplained after a thorough investigation is conducted. Similar to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), SUDC is a diagnosis of exclusion. It is given when all known and possible causes of death have been ruled out.

The difference between SIDS and SUDC is a birthday. SIDS applies to unexplained deaths in children 12 months and younger while SUDC applies to unexplained deaths in children over one year old. SIDS is responsible for 54 deaths out of every 100,000 babies. SUDC is only responsible for 1.2 deaths out of every 100,000 children.

On Saturday, March 22, Winston-Salem residents Tiffany and Russ Kratzer, hosted Jacob’s Joy 5k Run/Walk at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons. Dozens of people gathered to honor the memory of Jacob and to spread awareness of SUDC by donating to the research of the SUDC program through the CJ Foundation. It is their hope that one day, research foundations will be able to provide families with answers. Furthermore, it is everyone’s wish that SUDC will be a cause of the past, and families will no longer have to suffer such a devastating loss.

While SUDC doesn’t provide families the comfort of definite reason, there are many causes of infant mortality in Forsyth County that do offer numbers, statistics, proof and reason.

Ayotunde Ademoyero, director of epidemiology and surveillance at the Forsyth County Board of Public Health is also the coordinator for the Forsyth County Child Fatality Prevention and Community Child Protection Team. She addressed the Forsyth County Commissioners on March 20 with the 2013 North Carolina Child Health Report Card with a concentration on Forsyth County.

It was revealed that as of 2012, Forsyth County’s infant mortality rate is again higher than the North Carolina average. With an infant mortality rate of 7.4/1,000 births, North Carolina is ranked 46 out of 50 states in the category, leaving only four states with more infant deaths than North Carolina.

In Forsyth County, infant mortality is 10.2/1,000 births.

Commissioner Everette Witherspoon was disheartened after hearing the statistics.

“We have to come together to solve this problem,” Witherspoon said, “It is a big issue in Forsyth County. It’s a bigger problem here than in some third-world countries.”

In 2012, Forsyth County saw 65 deaths in people under the age of 17. Forty-seven of those deaths were infants.

Twenty of the child deaths were perinatal. Sixteen deaths were caused by birth defects. Fourteen were taken by illnesses, seven were by cause of accidents, and there was one suicide.

One of the many possible reasons for this problem may be economic issues. Since 2007, child poverty in Forsyth County has increased almost 49 percent. The median income per household has gone from $51,558 in 2007 to $43,049 in 2012. Poor economic conditions can contribute to a number of dangerous scenarios for children. Economic instability can lead to health problems such as malnourishment and starvation. In 2007, Forsyth County’s unemployment rate was 4.4 percent. In 2012, the unemployment rate in Forsyth County more than doubled at 9 percent. Economic issues can cause stress on adults, and that contributes to the children’s mental wellbeing.

Adults are also called upon to better ensure children’s safety by practicing better supervision and learning about safe sleep practices.

Another factor in the health of Forsyth County children is the prenatal care of mothers while pregnant. According to the NC Child Health Report Card, studies show that women’s health status before pregnancy is a strong predictor of newborn’s health.

In Forsyth County, one of the bigger factors in frequency of child mortality is race/ethnicity. The infant mortality rate for minorities in this county are nearly double the rate of infant mortality in whites.

“This is a consistent problem that has to be fixed,” Commissioner Witherspoon said.

In a few months, the county commissioners and Forsyth County department heads will appoint staff members to the board of the Child Fatality Prevention and Community Child Protection Team. Forsyth County has a long way to go, but the North Carolina Child Health Report Card did bring some positive news.

Even though the percent of children living in poverty has increased since 2007, the number of children who are insured is higher than ever before. Since 2007, Forsyth County has seen a 29.7 percent increase of children insured. That number is expected to increase under the Affordable Care Act. The North Carolina Division of Medical Assistance estimates that 70,000 additional people, mostly children, will enroll in Medicaid in 2014.

Child mortality isn’t just about numbers or facts. Death in infants is about more than statistics and explanations. These statistics were once little boys and girls who had families and dreams. The Kratzer family could not have prevented a tragedy like SUDC because it didn’t come with warning signs. Now that they are aware of the problem, they are doing what they can to shine light on SUDC and fight it so that other families don’t have to lose someone as special as Jacob.

Forsyth County has the statistics on the child mortality problem. The warning signs live among the facts and figures of the tragedies that continue. !