‘She wasn’t breathing:’ Parents who lost infant say it could’ve been prevented

SUMMIT CO., Ohio (WKBN) – Losing a child is a tragic event for any family, especially if that death was preventable. Now a Summit County family who lost their 10-week-old daughter is sending a message to all new parents.

Meagen and Jeff Gries have known each other since they were 18. They’re now 33, married with two children. Jeff is an engineer and Meagen is a first-grade teacher.

Three years ago, their lives were changed forever on Meagen’s first day back to school from maternity leave after giving birth to their daughter, Molly.

“I made it through the morning to lunchtime, when I got a text message from our sitter that said, ‘Call me.’”

The babysitter told Meagen that her infant wasn’t breathing, so they took her to Akron Children’s Hospital.

Meagen and Jeff said they didn’t assume the worst. They couldn’t even imagine the idea of losing their baby. But just 10 weeks after her birth, a doctor told them Molly had passed.

“And that was it. And she was gone,” Meagen said.

The couple assumed Molly died from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), but an autopsy report told them it was an accidental case of positional asphyxiation.

“She was propped on her side and at some time in her nap, she rolled onto her belly and wasn’t able to breathe,” Meagen said. “Once we found that out, it lit this fire within us to share that story.”

First, they went to Facebook with a post that’s been shared hundreds of times in the last three years.

Then they started a nonprofit — the Molly Ann Gries Foundation — which spreads the message of safe sleep through educational board books, pamphlets, even breathable mattresses.

They work with Akron Children’s Hospital campuses in the tri-county area to make sure what happened to them never happens to anyone else.

“There’s nothing that makes you feel less in control than having to bury your child,” Meagen said. “It’s not something we ever imagined or pictured ourselves doing, but we went through it. So then after that was said and done, we realized that this was 100 percent preventable.”

Dr. Jennifer Manning, a neonatologist at Akron Children’s Beeghly Campus and St. Elizabeth’s, agrees. Manning has been working with Meagen and Jeff to spread the safe sleep message to parents across the Valley.

“Our babies are meant to sleep alone, on their backs and in their crib,” Manning said.

There shouldn’t be anything else in the crib — no pillows, blankets or small toys. Jeff and Meagen have taken it upon themselves to make sure everyone knows that.

“Look at a nursery on a sitcom or television shows. There’re stuffed animals and cutesy things hanging around. It’s not supposed to be like that,” Jeff said.

Ohio saw 117 child deaths from sleeping-related causes in 2017. The Gries family is hoping to change that.