The mother of a toddler who died while napping in her car seat is sharing her heartbreaking story in hopes of preventing another tragedy.
Lisa Smith still remembers receiving the devastating phone call three years ago that her 17-month-old daughter, Mia, didn’t wake up from her nap.
“This was our beautiful little girl,” the grieving Texas mother said in an interview with Today. “Perfectly healthy in every way.”
The toddler was being cared for by her longtime home daycare provider, and was put down for a nap in her car seat and left unattended in another room while she slept.
At the hospital, Smith recalls the moment doctors confirmed her worst fears. “When the [doctors] came in and told us that she didn’t have any more brain activity, all I did was turn to the doctor and said, ‘I know.'”
According to reports, an investigation into Mia’s death revealed the toddler died of what’s known as mechanical or positional asphyxia, caused by restricted airflow due to her awkward sleeping position in the car seat.
Dr. Natalie Azar, a NBC News medical contributor explained to Today the dangers of children falling asleep in car seats.
“Positional asphyxia is when the baby’s sleeping position prevents him or her from breathing adequately,” Azar said. “When a car seat is in the car, it’s reclined at 45 degrees. This allows the baby’s head and neck to rest backwards so that it’s not slumped forward, blocking the airway.”
According to Sharon Evans, a trauma injury prevention coordinator at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, parents should never use a car seat for their child to take a nap.
“There’s nothing about the car seat that’s designed for sleep,” Evans said, noting that if the car seat isn’t properly in place, with the straps secure, the child can “slump down” into a dangerous position.
Smith says she never left Mia sleeping in a car seat, but is worried that other parents might not be aware. The unimaginable loss has prompted the mother to share her story with people she passes on the street who are letting their children sleep in their car seats.
Smith says whenever she sees parents using their car seats at restaurants for their sleeping children she will “literally” walk up to them and share her story as a warning for parents to be careful.
“Losing a child, it’s beyond soul-crushing,” Smith said. “The hardest part is that this was so easily prevented. And we lost a daughter so needlessly. No family deserves this.”
Mia was Smith’s “firstborn, our only child and she didn’t deserve what happened to her,” she said. “But other families don’t deserve this to happen to them either.”