Over the Hill

One child’s happy future takes shape

Jennifer Hinson of San Luis Obispo said she learned about the “Back to Sleep” campaign last year when she took birthing classes. “Back to Sleep” was launched in 1992 to combat Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

SIDS kills thousands of apparently healthy infants each year. They’re found dead in their cribs. Doctors don’t know what causes SIDS, but they know babies who sleep on their backs are less likely to suffer it. SIDS deaths have declined more than 50 percent since “Back to Sleep” started.

Jennifer and Mark Hinson’s baby was born last May 15. He’s their first. They named him Tyler.

They also heard about “Back to Sleep” from nurses at the hospital and from Tyler’s pediatrician. And they read “Back to Sleep” on toy packaging and diapers. They’ve always laid Tyler on his back in his crib.

But as time passed they noticed Tyler’s head getting flat in back. Our skulls are made of bone plates that knit together. The backs and tops of infants’ skulls are thin and pliant. Infants whose heads always rest in the same position during sleep may end up with flat areas.

Tyler’s pediatrician said children usually outgrow the flattening. But Tyler didn’t. Jennifer Hinson described it as “90 degrees flat down.” People mentioned it. She repositioned him in the crib, hoping he’d look to the side, but he persisted in facing the ceiling.

A friend said her new baby also had a flattened head, and a pediatric neurosurgeon prescribed a corrective helmet. She said the Hinsons should act quickly because the time for reshaping a baby’s skull is limited. Tyler was then 8 months old.

But the earliest appointment Jennifer Hinson could get with a pediatric neurosurgeon was in two months. Fortunately, that doctor’s office called back saying they could see Tyler the following day because of a cancellation.

The neurosurgeon determined the only cause for the flatness was Tyler’s sleeping position. He said Tyler is totally normal, his brain is fine and the flatness is just a cosmetic issue.

But it was more than cosmetic to Jennifer Hinson. It was a threat to Tyler’s future happiness.

Making the corrective helmets is a specialty. She’d heard they were only available in large metropolitan areas and there could be two-month delays. But then she learned a local prosthetics company also makes the helmets.

Tyler’s blue helmet resembles a miniature football helmet. He’s worn it six weeks, 231⁄2 hours a day. His mother took it off for a few minutes when I visited last week. He looked fine to me.

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Correction: Last week I listed the wrong P.O. Box for Transitional Food and Shelter. It should be P.O. Box 4471, Paso Robles, CA 93447.