Our SIDS Story: Finding Hope Through Giving Back

Parents Form Charlie’s Kids Foundation After Losing Son to SIDS

The Hanke Family (L to R): Maura, Sam, Charlie (pictured in frame), Annie Elizabeth, and Owen.
Of the tragedies a parent can endure, perhaps none is more heart wrenching than the sudden loss of a child.  No matter the age, the death of a child will test one’s faith to its core, and forever leave a broken heart.  Of course, sometimes such a tragedy can spur action and turn sadness into a positive force for change.

This is my life.  I am a doctor, a husband, a father.  My wife and I lived through the unthinkable nightmare of losing a child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), but now we have a greater purpose to prevent additional death through education.  Along the way, we built a foundation that has already touched countless lives, and hopefully saved a few.  This is the story of Charlie, our beautiful son.

My wife, Maura and I were college sweethearts and a very happily married couple.  We surrounded ourselves with friends and family, and relished in anticipation of children and a life full of love and happiness.  Our dreams of parenthood came true on April 6, 2010 when we welcomed our first son Charlie Paul into the world. He was healthy and beautiful, and for us, like many new parents, the reason the sun rose and set each day.

We were a normal family.  I work as a pediatric cardiologist, and Maura, a kindergarten teacher, and like all parents, we wished and hoped for our baby a long, joyful and happy life.  We imagined his future.  We made plans. After a healthy, routine pregnancy, Charlie came into the world a perfect 7 lb. 11 oz. baby boy.  We celebrated the day he came home from the hospital – we read him stories; we gave him baths.  He brought us so much joy in everyday things.

But, at just three weeks old, in the early morning hours of April 28, Charlie died, a victim of SIDS and an unsafe sleep environment. That night, like many of us, I laid on the couch with Charlie; the perfect picture of sleep-deprived father and son.  It wasn’t unusual; we so often see this photo on Facebook — baby asleep on dad’s chest, dad sound asleep too.  But, I woke up, Charlie didn’t.

What we now know, what may not be realized when “liking” these cute photos, is that this sleepy snuggle is actually dangerous for our babies.  Co-sleeping and tummy sleeping are two of the leading risk factors for SIDS, and this includes those innocent naps on the couch or accidentally falling asleep after nursing in the night. So, when trying to calm a newborn at 2 a.m., or sneaking a few extra ZZZs during the day, think of Charlie. We want you to know that your baby is safest on his or her back alone in the crib, and this has become one of our life missions.

With each milestone in the year that followed the loss of Charlie, Maura and I slowly started to pick up the pieces and heal, but we needed to make sense of losing Charlie so soon.  Fueled by faith and the strength and encouragement of friends and family, we looked for a bigger way to remember Charlie and most importantly try to prevent other families from suffering this same pain.

We decided to do that through the formation of a foundation. Charlie’s Kids Foundation was started on what would have been Charlie’s first birthday.  The mission we wanted to accomplish was clear to us from the very beginning: to raise awareness and support of SIDS by educating families, providing resources for new parents and promoting dialogue about SIDS and safe sleep practices. Our goal for Charlie’s Kids Foundation became a focused passion. We didn’t rest until we developed and instituted new outreach tactics for SIDS education and safe sleep education.

We started by thinking back to those first few chaotic days before and after Charlie’s birth, and we remembered being overwhelmed by a huge stack of papers, pamphlets and brochures we received when we were discharged home from the hospital with Charlie.  It was information overload, and this combined with sleep deprivation made learning and comprehension challenging.  We realized there was an opportunity for a different approach to teaching safe sleep practices for new parents.

That realization led us to the development of a children’s board book, called Sleep Baby Safe and Snug, authored by Dr. John Hutton and illustrated by Leah Busch. All proceeds from the sales of this book go to fulfilling Charlie’s Kids mission of educating families about safe sleep and SIDS.  It is our hope that people will cherish this book and read it to their child numerous times to reinforce the safe sleep guidelines. Sleep Baby Safe and Snug is now included in every safe sleep survival kit distributed by the national organization Cribs for Kids, which is an  organization that provides safe-sleep cribs and other safe-sleep products to at-risk families around the country, including right here in Cincinnati.

We also created a Do’s and Don’ts chart utilizing the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2011 Safe Sleep Recommendations that is easy-to-read, so that overwhelmed parents can get the information they need to know quickly:


The creation of Charlie’s Kids Foundation has been a healing experience for my family.  We feel Charlie’s presence everyday, as we spread our critical safe sleep message. We know his story is helping save babies’ lives.  The creation of Sleep Baby Safe and Snug has been especially cathartic.  Reading to Charlie was a part of our daily routine, and spreading the safe sleep message in this way is not only effective, but deeply personal. We hope families feel the love we put into it as they read it to their own children.

While our family is forever altered, we made Charlie a big brother upon the arrival of Owen in June, 2011. We welcomed our third child, Annie Elizabeth, this July. We can’t wait to tell our children how their big brother has changed so many lives for the better.

Editor’s Note: The recommendations in this blog post are for typical newborns. If a healthcare provider recommends that your baby sleep differently than the American Academy of Pediatric’s guidelines, follow the instructions from your child’s physician. 


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Dr. Sam Hanke

About the Author: Dr. Sam Hanke

Sam Hanke, MD, is a pediatric cardiologist at Cincinnati Children’s Heart Institute and Affiliated Faculty at the James M. Anderson Center for Health Systems Excellence at Cincinnati Children’s. He lives with his wife, Maura, and children, Owen and Annie, in Cold Spring, Kentucky.

Write a comment


  1. Rick Martin October 25, 22:04
    God Bless those little people...don't know what else to say....
  2. Pamela Argubright October 26, 10:37
    Tears flow as I read your story. At 3:30pm, Jan. 18, 2013, I received the call that my 5 month old grandson Aden wasn't breathing. He was at the sitters so I immediately drove there and found my daughter screaming outside the ambulance. My daughter Ashley was a nanny in college and has always been a strong advocate of safe sleep. She is a teacher and always brought a sleep sack to the sitters each day. On this day, the sitter laid Aden on his side and tucked a blanket next to him. He was found face down with his head in the blanket. It's been tough to deal with the feeling that this could have been prevented. My daughter has turned this tragedy into helping others as you have. On Oct. 5th we held our 1st Annual 5K run/walk and kids run. We had 300 runners and walkers and we have raised between $15,000 and $18,000- final figures are not in yet. We are providing sleep sacks and safe sleep packages to 4 area hospitals. I'm so proud of my daughter and what she has accomplished. I hope to attend your event someday and plan to buy your book and give as baby gifts. God bless you. Nana
  3. Sarah October 26, 13:25
    Thank you for this article. As someone who has ensured her crib is safe for baby, I fell asleep last night nursing our infant. She's fine, but I think too many of us do as you said and have the cute daddy infant napping photos or fall asleep with our baby in our arms. I can't imagine the grief that you have all been through, but I appreciate the sharing of your story to others.
  4. Peg October 26, 21:09
    Our Grandson is 2 weeks old.. Both my daughter and I have both fallen asleep holding Owen. Thank you for sharing your story, I have learned some do's and dont's that I wasn't aware of. I also teach a prenatal nutrition class and meet hundreds of expectant moms each year.. I will pass on your story and your website info and get it listed as a resource. Thank you for your openness into your private life. Thank you for sharing Charlie with us.
  5. Dorothy Everts October 27, 21:17
    Thank you Sam, for sharing your personal story. I didn't know the details of your tragedy. God Bless you, Maura and your children. I know lives are being saved through your work and Charlie's Kids Foundation. Proud of what you're doing. See you soon at work.
  6. Donna October 30, 13:33
    Thank you for sharing your story. I am a mother of 3 and grandmother of 5. I must admit that I have let my kids and grsndkids fall asleep on my chest. I won't be doing that anymore with any new grsndkids that GOD blesses me with thank you for telling your story!
  7. Jennifer October 30, 17:42
    This is a very sad tragedy. I'm glad you are educating others on the practices of safe sleep and back to sleep. It's very important. I was curious of your use of the term SIDS instead of asphyxiation, as there is no known cause of SIDS. Continue on with your good work.
  8. Michele October 30, 19:18
    What an amazing article. I work as a pediatric emergency medicine physician. Unfortunately, I have to deal with the consequences and have seen many families lives torn apart. It is always very heart wrenching. I hope others read this article and realize that even in our most fatigued moments, we need to put the baby in the crib to sleep. A safe environment is important. I fell asleep several times in the middle of the night, on the couch, with the baby on my chest. We also have the cute "daddy" pictures of our baby sleeping on his chest. That was 12 years ago, but this article reinforced what we all learned in residency and heard in the doctor's office. You are saving lives with this campaign. Thank you so much.
  9. Lori October 30, 22:25
    Dr Sam, Thank you for sharing your story. Im so sorry for your loss. As a parent, I know, we all would do everything in our power, to keep our babies safe. You and your wife should be commended for how your remembering Charlie, by helping and educating so many. I will pass this on to everyone. And also let them know, that this is a story written by a wonderful doctor who personally cared for my daughter, in CICI, during one of the most stressful times in our life, at Children's Hospital. And we will forever be grateful.
    • Lori October 30, 22:26
  10. Gloria November 05, 10:00
    Dr. Hank and Maura, thank you for sharing Charlie's story with us. I can only imagine how much faith and strength it must have taken take to get your lives back together after the loss of your beautiful son. My guess is that you probably hear this a lot but I think you are both remarkable people. Charlie lives on through your hard work and he speaks to everyone who reads (or listens to) his book. Thank you for being such a great example of courage, love and resilience
  11. Pat November 05, 10:14
    Dear Maura and Sam, thank you so much for sharing your story with us and others. We know and love you well. God blessed us with loving couples like you. Thank you for having the courage to share your story, but even more, for helping others who grieve also. Thank you for setting up your foundation to share books, but to share safety tips for our beloved babies. I look forward to the time when I will be a grandparent. I will make sure that my own adult children get a copy of your book and are made aware of the safety list for babies! May God continue to bless you and your family!
  12. Alexandrea Ware November 19, 22:23
    Dr. Sam and Maura, I just started my career here at Children's and I've read your story and it touched my soul. What you and your wife were able to accomplish after your tragedy is amazing to me. To be able to put your emotions aside to want to help other parents is a blessing. I know the Lord helped you and your wife through the toughest moment in your life and is still helping you. Thank you for what you are doing for all he parents out there. God will continue to bless you. I will definitely pass this article to everyone I know with an infant. I'm deeply sorry for your loss and Charlie lives on through his foundation.
  13. Amber September 07, 22:25
    Sam & Maura, I am sincerely sorry for the loss of your beautiful son, Charlie. Our perfect grandson, Noah was born on July 21st. On July 25th he died in my daughters arms as she was breastfeeding him. I was there when it happened. I am an RN & was unable to revive Noah. He was revived in the ER, transported to Oakland Childrens Hospital, only to be removed from life support on July 29th. Our lives are shattered right now but we hope someday to have the faith to turn this tragedy into something as positive as you both have. God bless you & your family.
  14. Amy Sagona February 04, 00:44
    Thank you for sharing your story. I think it's also important to remind people to educate the friends, loved ones, and caregivers for their children. Our sitter put our son on a soft mattress with a blanket. His death was ruled positional asphyxiation, so we know for sure that his death was caused by unsafe sleeping practices. I had told his sitter that I didn't feel comfortable putting Drew on his stomach to sleep, but I guess I wasn't adamant enough to show her that she shouldn't do it either. It's so tempting because they sleep so much better on their tummies, but it's not worth the risk.
  15. Doug April 07, 15:23
    I am a parent of a son that died of SIDS just over 20 years ago...My wife and I have had this song for many years and I finally decided to post it on YouTube as a tribute to our son, Jake Douglas, in the hopes it will help other parents and families heal from the tragedy of suddenly losing your child. It was written and performed by Jim Gibson in San Jose at a SIDS benefit for a child named Nolan, whom also passed away from SIDS. The lyrics are embedded in video as well as posted below in the notes..Please share with anyone you know that may benefit from this! It has religious words, so if you are not religious, this song may not be for you https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZ9ntIaEFjo
  16. lera June 01, 17:45
    How come its so hard to get over the death of your own child i had a son who had died from sids at 3 months and 4 day i woke up and found my son dead in bed with me laying next to me this is the worse pain anyone needs to go through
  17. Sara K. November 01, 17:47
    My thoughts and prayers go out to you as parents who have suffered a tragic loss. I just had my first babe, and I cannot imagine what you have gone through. You are doing a wonderful thing by spreading awareness. Sam - were you part of the Belize Wilderness Medicine group back during med school? I think i was there with you...please correct me if I am wrong. I just wanted to reach out to you, and say that you are doing great things as a physician and as a father.
  18. Newyearbabie November 04, 19:42
    As a grandparent who lost a grandchild at 6 weeks I so appreciate your bravery in telling your story. God bless.