Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nathan's Article in the Jefferson County Journal

ARNOLD: Parents on crusade after death of infant son
Nathan Blecha died at unlicensed day care

By Trish Wallace
Tuesday, March 18, 2008 12:49 PM CDT

He would have celebrated his first birthday Monday, licking a first taste of birthday cake icing off of his fingers and learning to unwrap presents on his own.

Instead, Nathan Jay Blecha died last summer at an in-home day care in Arnold just two days after he turned 3 months old. He suffocated after being put down for a nap on his stomach instead of his back.

His death was officially declared accidental, but Nathan's parents, Steve and Shelley Blecha, of Imperial, believe the tragedy was preventable and want to save other families from experiencing similar grief.Steve said that when he is out in public and sees a family with a baby, he has to fight the urge to rush up to the parents and tell them to be careful.

The Blechas do not believe the owner of the day care intended for any harm to come to their son and believe she is remorseful over Nathan's death.

"We're certainly not doing this to do a witch hunt," Steve said.

Instead, they want to raise awareness about the dangers of unlicensed day cares and the importance of laying babies to sleep on their backs.

June 26, 2007

Just like any other Tuesday morning, the Blechas dropped off Nathan and his 3-year-old brother, Clayton, at the day care in Arnold, expecting to see both of their children later that evening. The Blechas said the day care owner's sister was left in charge of 10 children that day.

Shelley said the sister explained later that when she put Nathan down for a nap in a separate room, another baby was already soundly sleeping. Not wanting to disturb the first baby's rest, the sister did not turn on the light in the room, and placed Nathan on his stomach to sleep in a playpen.

Because the room was dark, the sister did not realize the plastic padding on top of the playpen was not only loose but bunched close to Nathan's face.

"He wasn't a long nap taker," Shelley said.

Realizing Nathan was sleeping longer than usual, the sister went into the room to check on Nathan only to discover he wasn't breathing.

He was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

"I think the only reason the paramedics worked on him was as a courtesy to us," Steve said, convinced that by the time his son was discovered, he was already far past the point of recovery.

Shelley was quick to note that Nathan's death was not declared a result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), though the way he died is similar to the way some SIDS deaths occur. The official autopsy report listed the primary cause of death as re-breath, or suffocation.

The owner of the day care could not be reached for comment.

Learning to cope

Though the baby was only 3 months old, Nathan had already developed a distinct personality completely different from his brother, his parents said.

While Clayton loved being the center of attention and was quite a handful as a baby, Nathan was much more easy going, for the most part only crying when he could not see everything that was going on.

That distinct personality also left a distinct hole in the family's life.

The Blechas said that as a toddler, Clayton was a little jealous of his brother at first, but in the last several weeks of Nathan's life, Clayton had warmed up to the role of big brother. The parents even caught the boy singing to the baby on occasion.

A few days after Nathan died, Clayton asked Steve to fix "my Nathan." The Blechas tried to explain to their son that his brother was with Jesus and that if he looked to the sky he could think of Nathan in heaven.

"He says, 'I'm going to get a trampoline and jump high enough to bring my Nathan down,'" Steve said. "He still goes into his brother's room and says, 'Nathan has a pretty room, Daddy.'"

Although Nathan's death was not a SIDS death, Steve and Shelley are grateful for the help they have received from the SIDS foundation, especially in handling young Clayton's reactions to the tragedy since he was at the day care when Nathan died.

"I'm hopeful that whatever it was that the oldest witnessed, he forgets," Steve said.

Steve stared longingly at one of his favorite pictures of Nathan.

"He was such a good baby," he said.

Nowhere to turn

The Blechas filed a claim against the day-care owner's insurance company, but to no avail. They said her insurance policy was written with the correct wording to exempt the company from any responsibility because the homeowner did not claim her home business with the company.

"It just seems like every step of the way we've been punched in the gut," Steve said.

The Blechas know that no amount of money will remove their months of grief and continued healing, but they had hoped to ease part of the financial burden of the ambulance ride, hospital bills, funeral, burial and loss of wages.

"It's not the money," Shelley said. "We just feel like something needs to be done."

Steve agreed.

"We just don't feel like anything has been done to justify what has happened," he added.

Missouri law

In the months following Nathan's death, his family expected that the county or the state would somehow take care of the situation. They soon learned the reality that no charges would be brought against the day care owner.

While Missouri Revised Statues declare the operation of a child care facility without a license to be unlawful, state law restricts the penalty to a fine, similar to a traffic ticket.

"So it will only cost you $200 to kill someone's kid," Steve said.

However, Missouri legislators are ready to take the first steps toward change. State Rep. Tim Meadows, D-Arnold, just signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill last week that will tighten some of the standards required for the licensing of child care facilities.

"We need to do this," Meadows said. "This is way overdue."

House Bill 2353, was originally filed by state Rep. Regina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, and allows for a day care license to be revoked if the center fails to meet the standards of its municipality. If the facility meets state requirements but fails to meet stricter conditions required from a local municipality, the city can call Jefferson City and request an investigation.

"This is not the cure-all, but it is a step forward," Walsh said.

The bill has already had one hearing.

"My heart goes out to that family," Meadows said after learning about the Blechas' loss.

He said he would be in favor of further legislation that forces more responsibility on those who own child care facilities.

How to choose a child care provider

When Nathan's older brother, Clayton, was born, Steve and Shelley had no idea how to find an appropriate day care facility. Despite all of the preparedness parenting classes offered at hospitals from Lamaze and breast feeding to tips to calm a fussy baby, the Blechas had no idea how to find the right child care provider.

"No one teaches you about day cares or how to shop for one," Shelley said.

Deciding they preferred the personal, homey environment of an in-home day care-known by the state as a family child care home-the Blechas interviewed multiple candidates.

Steve and Shelley finally decided on a woman who had been suggested by their church. They were impressed by her structured curriculum.

"She seemed like she knew what she was doing," Steve said.

Shelley admitted that she knew the day-care provider was not licensed by the state, but the young mother did not realize then that providing child care, even in one's own home, without a license is illegal. She even recommended the day-care services to other families.

"It never dawned on me that I should be concerned about that," Shelley said.

Christine Soong, owner of A Child's Place in Barnhart, started her business as an unlicensed day care in her home but quickly took on the classes required for licensing, including the training that emphasizes the importance of baby sleeping positions.

Soong said day-care owners are required to go through 12 hours of training every year to maintain their licenses. The state performs inspections to make sure all of the center's standards meet state requirements.

She also said that the records of child care facilities and day care centers are open to the public.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Web site provides tips to choosing an appropriate and legal day care.

In hindsight, the Blechas know they could have asked more questions and raised concerns.

"If you have to say, 'Wow, it's amazing she can take care of so many kids. I could never do that,' it's a sign," Shelley warned.

Sympathetic to the Blechas grief, Soong complimented their efforts toward change.

"I think it's fantastic that they're trying to make more of an awareness," she said.


The Blechas have been active with SIDS, networking with other families who have suffered the loss of a baby. Because the organization was the only helpful resource for the family after Nathan died, Shelley has worked hard with SIDS Resources to plan the first Strides for SIDS event, a 5k run fund-raiser for the organization. The event is planned for May 31 at Forest Park.

The family has other reasons to be excited. Shelley is pregnant, and the baby is due Aug. 27.

See the article

Friday, March 7, 2008

Many Thanks to the Elks of High Ridge!

We'd like to extend a huge "Thank You" to the Elks of High Ridge for donating the BBQ wagon for us to use on race day!

Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Help us raise funds and awareness for SIDS Resources!

SIDS Resources, Inc. is hosting their first annual 5K in Forest Park on May 31, 2008. This event is monumental in the efforts to raise awareness and funds to ensure every baby thrives and survives. SIDS Resources is a not-for-profit organization that provides family support to those who have experienced the tragedy of sudden infant death, as well as public education on how to reduce the risk.

Join us in this effort in remembrance of Nathan Jay Blecha, who passed away at the all too young age of just 3 months and 2 days. SIDS Resources has been incredibly generous and helpful to my family and others in their time of need. They have joined forces with many other organizations to increase awareness on safe sleep practices for babies, most notably the “Back to Sleep” campaign, and are working hard to make sure this never happens again.

For more information and to donate, simply click the link below:
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