Lisa Smith got the call at work no parent should ever have to receive. Her 17-month-old daughter Amelia (Mia) had gone down for her nap at her dayhome and failed to wake up.
On June 10, 2015, Mia’s longtime babysitter, who ran a licensed home daycare in Iowa, put the toddler down to nap in her car seat. According to the police report, the child was left unattended in a dark room, improperly strapped into the seat, and suffered positional asphyxia. She died when her sleeping position blocked her airway and prevented her from breathing. The dayhome provider was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 3 years probation and ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to the family. She was also ordered to record a public service announcement to be played on a Knoxville radio station warning parents about the improper use of car seats.
And now, years later, Lisa is speaking out about the tragic death of her daughter in the hopes that her story will save the lives of other children.
“Losing a child, it’s beyond soul-crushing,” Lisa says in an interview with the Today Show. “The hardest part is that this was so easily prevented. And we lost a daughter needlessly. No family deserves this.”
Mia was her first-born, and at the time, only child. She was a “total little girl from the very beginning. She just loved to dance. She would have a dance party all day long if she could.” Her death never should have happened. But it did, and while Lisa was aware of the risks of leaving a child to sleep in a car seat unattended and never did it herself, she had no idea that her caregiver did. The scary thing is that it could happen to so many others who don’t realize that they’re putting their children in danger.
Lisa says she sees parents using car seats as carriers all the time. In the video interview she shows a car seat sitting on a counter, not attached to its base.
We see people that use car seats like this. They go out to restaurants, they’ll put them in carts at the grocery store. They’ll be on the floors, the pews in churches.
But a car seat is designed to be secured to a base. According to NBC News medical correspondent, Dr. Natalie Azar, “When a car seat is in the car, it’s reclined at 45 degrees. This allows the baby’s head and neck to rest backwards so that it’s not slumped forward, blocking the airway.” The problem with a car seat not attached to its base is that it’s often sitting at the wrong angle, which can lead to suffocation or strangulation by the straps if the baby’s head flops forward.
A Journal of Pediatrics study on the hazards of sitting and carrying devices for children under two years old found that 31 children died while sleeping in car seats between 2004 and 2008. 52% of the deaths were attributed to strangulation from straps, and the other 48% were due to positional asphyxia. The authors concluded that:
Car seats should not be used as sleeping areas outside of the vehicle, and children should never be in a car seat with unbuckled or partially buckled straps.
Lisa has made it her mission to inform other parents of the dangers of using a car seat outside of a vehicle. She doesn’t want any other parent to have to live with the heartbreaking loss that she and her husband have had to endure. In an interview with WFAA News, she states:
I walk around town and see people using a car seat on the seats at restaurants or putting them on the floor at tables. I literally walk up to people and I say, ‘You know, I had a daughter who was seventeen-and-a-half months who passed away and I just want you to be really careful.’
Mia’s story is a devastating reminder of just how fragile life is. As parents we want nothing more than to protect our children. Educating ourselves on proper safety protocols with car seats is essential to ensuring that accidents like this one are prevented. You can find more information on car seat safety from the American Academy of Pediatrics here.