Sunday, January 9, 2011

S I D S : A Personal Retrospection

Twenty-five years ago today, the Brisbane (Australia) Courier-Mail newspaper's front page headlined an article entitled, "Mums Warned on Babies' Sleep Posture" . It quoted me, as the Public Education Officer of the than Australian Chiropractic Association, giving a warning to mothers not to put their babies to sleep on their stomachs as a way to avoid the possibility of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. This was especially important if the baby sustained any neck twisting or pulling during the arduous birthing process. That story certainly put me as the cat among the pigeons!

I had started a year long crusade to get this vital information to be taken seriously. At first the ridicule of the medical profession, including pediatricians, orthopedists and neurologists (who should've really known better) was vehement. The newspapers were full of their derogatory comments about my expertise and questioned chiropractic's knowledge in this matter. In spite of this, many invitations to speak on radio programs in each state came quickly, including the Australian national radio network, as I showed showed that my information was credible. By then I was invited to do a spot on the Today Show with Steve Leibmann who had me facing the President of the Australian Medical Society. I ended up proving that chiropractic's 91 years of existence and experience qualified it to comment on anything spinal and/or neurological. By the end of the year I was called many times to comment on various other spinal health issues. Another "brick-in-the-wall" for chiropractic!

I think it is important for you to know how this observation of mine on SIDS came about. It started in a somewhat ambiguous way in 1984 when I was encouraged by my colleagues in the Queensland Spinal Study Group to research and write a paper on the Cervical Spine (neck) and the Vertebral Artery in Health And Disease. They wanted to advance our profession's knowledge of this vital segment of the spine and assess any possible dangers in manipulating the neck vertebrae and thought I was the man for the job. I had a busy practice but I was keen to literally go back to school and do research in the university library setting. No google then.

After 9 months I was ready to present my research paper to the Spinal Study Group. I was delighted to get an enthusiastic response to this new knowledge I presented and doubly proud to be invited to speak at the upcoming Annual National Conference of our Association. Further kudos for my paper elicited invitations to speak at the New Zealand Chiropractors Annual Conference and then at the Holy Grail for chiropractors, the International Spinal Conference held yearly in Las Vegas. After that whirlwind year I returned to my somewhat neglected but busy practice.

This is where serendipity struck. At the time I had two pediatric nurses as patients both of which had neck problems. I repeated my usual suggestions to them, NOT to sleep on their stomachs to avoid further damage to their neck joints and nerves. To which they mentioned that they tell mothers to lay their newborn babies that way to sleep. With my enhanced knowledge of the cervical spine and its blood and nerve distribution to key centres in the brain I shockingly asked, "How long have you been doing this and WHY?"

They proceeded to inform me that sometime in 1979, paediatricians invoked a rule that, to avoid a choking from regurgitation babies must lie on their stomachs. This was the year that SIDS started to become noticed and became more prevalent during the early 1980's. It was a Eureka moment for me. Here was a direct neurological link to the baby's cranial breathing control centre. With this terrible situation getting bigger with every year. I needed to stop this erroneous and dangerous practice.

As my association's Public Education Officer I called a meeting of the Executive Board and proposed that our profession should go public with this finding. Not all agreed thinking that we should do more research on this matter before committing to public awareness. My argument was that chiropractors have always known stomach sleeping was bad for our patients so it would be for babies as well, even more so. And besides what better time to express our fears and warning them now with my internationally accepted research paper on the neck with its factual evidence? So....with a "better-you-than-me" attitude they voted that I could make a statement in the ACA's name and hopefully reduce this heartache for parents. The medics were slow to activate this new warning but chiropractors world-wide passed it on to all their patients and the incidence of SIDS slowly declined. As they say......."the rest is history".

The Way I See that one should always share a Truth that could enhance the plight of humanity in spite of negative opposition and pressure.