In the weeks prior to Remi’s passing, she had been sick and not going to daycare. Remi’s father usually took her to daycare, but had fallen asleep after a night shift in the ER. So, Remi’s mother decided to take her. Exhausted from a sleepless night with a sick baby and running late, she drove straight to work on auto-pilot, losing awareness that Remi was asleep in her rear-facing car seat. It wasn’t until the end of her shift as a nurse that she realized Remi was never dropped off. Remi died that day from heatstroke in her mother’s car at only 21-months-old.
A note from Remi’s mother…
It seems so hard to understand how something such as this can occur. Especially to a mother, nurse and a family nurse practitioner who has worked with children and families for the past 14 years. I understood how this tragedy can happen to the best parent the minute I realized my adored and loved daughter had never made it to daycare, despite my perceived knowledge that she was there and had been there all day. Not once up to that horrific moment of finding her did I ever think my child was in danger. She was in a safe place at daycare.
If you search for the meaning of the word “accident,” you can find two of the most common meanings.
“An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.”
“An event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause.”
I can tell you with 100% certainty that this horrific tragedy was accidental. It seems hard to comprehend how a parent loses the sense of awareness that their child is in the car. It was hard for me to comprehend when it made national news after a child died in 2014 in Hurricane, UT. The mother this happened to was kind enough to reach out to me for support when she heard of my case, despite me judging her harshly on social media at the time. I remember saying “how does a parent let this happen?” I remember after having Remi laughing at a meme that said “I was the best parent until I became one.”
An average of 38 children die from environmental vehicle related hyperthermia every year. A large percentage of these deaths are accidental and the details are very similar to my ordeal. A routine that is completely altered, numerous employment difficulties and unexpected events preceded by a night of poor sleep. In my case I also dealt with almost 2 weeks of a sick, febrile toddler who had not been to daycare in almost 8 days. I was very fortunate that my husband was on the off stretch of his nighttime ER position and had been able to care for her during the day, but we were both exhausted and weary from lack of sleep. He had returned back to work the night prior to June 21st and did not get home until around 4:30 am. He fell asleep and has always been hard to awaken once he is in a deep sleep. I had texted him around 2 am as Remi was up and irritable. She was up most of the night after that and she and I were both exhausted.
She was on antibiotics and I had forgotten her morning dose and had to run back into the house. Instead of just grabbing the bag with her meds, I pulled her out with me to take her back in and dispense it. I should have just grabbed it and threw it in my purse and given it to her at daycare. I was running late that am and had numerous tasks I needed to do on my mind.
I learned how to multitask early on as an athlete, babysitter, student, and later as an RN. I balanced nursing school and weekend night shifts as an LPN for almost 2 years. I worked in a pediatric float pool position, with cross training to numerous specialties. I later went on to obtain a masters degree and my family nurse practitioner certification.
My typical day as an FNP consisted of anywhere from 15-30 patients with varying degrees of complexity, as well as signing off orders and reviewing consults, labs and imaging results. I felt I was adept at organizing and “triaging my life.” What happened that day was tragic, horrific and 100% accidental. My mind was in overdrive that day as I had a mental overload of lists, tasks and issues to deal with.
We learn about the basal ganglia and reptilian responses that can occur in our brain in anatomy and physiology. Scientific studies have shown that “lapsed memory awareness” is valid and real. Children’s safety organizations as well as pediatric care centers are releasing preventative devices and systems to help prevent this issue from happening. It is reported that not all incidents are fatal, but as a number of them are unreported it is likely parents don’t want to admit that it almost happened to them. I will wish every day of my life that not only had mine perhaps been a “close call” but that it had never happened at all because I was able to realize and admit to that it does and could happen to the best parent.
My daughter was my world. She loved to dance to her favorite movies, eat mac and cheese and scrambled eggs, pulling on her daddy’s beard, playing in any and every type of water, and trying to pet every dog and cat she saw. She loved her binky and her milk.
Her nicknames were “Diddle,” after a noise she would always make when she was happy, and “Baby Cow,” due to her love of milk and cheese.” She slept in our room every night because she was a spoiled but adorable little stinker. She loved the Wildlife Safari animal park near our town, and we took her there at least once a week. She loved to play and get dirty, usually getting food and other dirty things all over herself with joy. She once managed to stick 4 peas in her nose, but mommy was able to get her to blow them back out. She loved helping feed our 3 malamutes and our tank of fish. Her full name was Remington Layla Engler. Her late Grandfather had the initials of RLE and we wanted to honor his memory.
I had talked about Remi to coworkers all day. I spent my time in between patients shopping for a picnic table, sandbox, and outdoor umbrella for the new playard we were working on. I took a 5 minute break to run to a drive thru coffee shop down the road without looking in my rearview mirror as I had a backup camera and the parking lot was empty. I made the mistake of talking to a coworker about a work issue that needed to be addressed via speakerphone and was distracted. I remember someone asking if I planned to have more children. “How could I improve on the one I have now,” was my reply.
If you take anything away from my story, PLEASE don’t glance at it and forget thinking it would never happen to you.
Don’t make the same mistake I did. I baby-proofed my house and yard, spent hours researching car seats and baby food recipes as well as cribs mattresses and video monitors. Not once in all my preparation did I ever pause to think that I could unintentionally leave my child in a car. I had a mirror that I could see her from my own rearview, a baby on board sticker, and usually did put my purse and lunch bag in the backseat. Perhaps out of the numerous events that day were abnormal and not usual, had one of them not happened I would not be writing this today. It would have taken 5 seconds to glance in the back of my car and realize I had not stopped at daycare after all. My own arrogance and disregard that as a mother I was simply not capable of doing such a thing meant I never took steps to prevent the worst thing that has ever happened to me.
We do our best to protect our children, and part of that should be admitting that we are capable of making mistakes and we cannot completely control the environment around our child. Please take the time to educate yourself and others.