By Sally Voth - email@example.com
STRASBURG - Had she lived, Anna Long's first born would be approaching her 22nd birthday.
Sadly, Danielle died on March 1, 1991, just shy of 10-months-old. She was a victim of sudden infant death syndrome, better known as SIDS.
Besides leaving Long grief-stricken and with a lifetime of what-ifs, Danielle's death inspires her to warn other parents and caregivers of the potential threat of SIDS.
That National Institutes of Health defines SIDS as the sudden and unexplained death of a baby 12 months and younger. An autopsy doesn't discover the cause of death.
"It happens at daycares, it happens at babysitters, it happens just everywhere," Long said, sitting at the kitchen table at her home outside Strasburg.
In Danielle's case, it happened in her crib.
"That day, she went to the doctor because she had an ear infection," Long remembered. "I put her to bed. I went back to check on her 15 minutes later, and she was fine. An hour later I went to check on her, and I noticed she wasn't breathing. I started screaming."
Her father started CPR while her mother called 911.
"[Medics] worked on her for hours and hours and hours," Long said. "The guy who did the autopsy even called me and said she was a very, very healthy baby, and she should've not died."
Far fewer babies die of SIDs than they did just two decades ago, said Dr. John Volinsky, a pediatrician at Winchester Pediatrics.
"The sleep position change to go from tummy to back has been huge," he said of the "Back to Sleep" campaign. "It took SIDS from like one in a thousand -- which made it the most common cause of death before 1992...to one in 5,000 maybe. It's been one of the most remarkable successes in my career."
While possible causes from every medical speciality were studied, no culprit could be found. However, when researchers went to China, they discovered that parents had been advised for hundreds of years to put their babies to sleep on their backs, Volinsky said.
"Originally, in '92, the guidelines were not quite as strict as they are now," he said. "What we start in the [hospital] nursery is no position to sleep is acceptable except flat on their back. The crib should look, unfortunately, like jail.
"I actually bring it up at every checkup, what position the baby sleeps until they're old enough to roll. I have not had a patient in the right sleeping environment die since I moved here in '98."
Before the Back to Sleep campaign, SIDS was a "pretty regular occurrence," Volinsky said.
"Every baby I heard about before '92 had been on their tummy," he said. "The Back to Sleep is really to prevent SIDS and also suffocation death."
For instance, babies found wedged into the a couch corner don't die of SIDS, they die of suffocation.
Death from SIDS happens faster than many people realize, and without babies putting up a struggle.
"It takes only four minutes to go from normal life to death," Volinsky said. "It's a silent death. You would never know."
Still in her teens when she had Danielle, Long struggled in the wake of her baby's death, saying she was mad at God, and didn't want to be around children for a long time afterwards.
"Finally, I got around a baby, and was like, 'What am I doing? I love this,'" said Long. "I decided to be a nanny."
She ended up working as a nanny for 10 years until she married her husband Greg.
The couple went on to have Pamela, 9, and adopt three more children: Sara, 17, Miranda, 13, and Mason, 11. They also have an infant foster son.
Long works as aide at Valley Baptist Daycare.
Until several years ago, when life got so busy for her, Long worked with SIDS organizations, going to conferences and meeting with families who'd also lost babies.
"I try to tell everybody about SIDS," she said. "I feel they need to know about it.
"It's been 20 years now, but it's just, it's been hard. I want people to understand it, and get the word out so people understand."
That means reminding people babies should sleep on their backs in their cribs with no blankets, stuffed animals or bumper pads.
Time doesn't heal all wounds.
"It gets harder every year," Long said. "We go to her grave quite often. We decorate it for every occasion possible."
She wonders what Danielle would look like at 22, and has thought about having an age progression done using her baby picture.
"Would she be in college?" Long asks.
Had Danielle lived, would Long have met her husband and gone on to have Pamela, is another question her mother asks herself.
"God changes your life, and He does it all for a reason," she said. "It totally changed my life. I wasn't a Christian like I am now.
"I always say God needs a baby angel in Heaven, and that's where she is."
Pamela said she often thinks of the older sister who never made it out of infancy.
"Danielle may be in Heaven, but she's always going to be my little sister," she said. "In my heart, she's always going to be perfect."