Aaron Matthew died just a few days after he was born. He was one of thousands of children born in the US each year who fall victim to sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. Like other victims of SIDS, Aaron simply stopped breathing, and doctors couldn’t explain why.
In the fifteen years following Aaron’s death, his father, John Kahan, has contributed all he can to ongoing SIDS research, hoping to explain what is currently inexplicable. As Chief Data Analytics Officer for Microsoft's AI for Good efforts, Kahan and his team volunteered thousands of hours to build a new research tool for the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, helping them sort through a vast array of raw data on SIDS.
This research attempts to solve an issue that has persisted unabated for decades. About 4,000 infants die unexpectedly in the US each year, a rate that Kahan says has remained unchanged for more than 20 years. SIDS is still the leading cause of death for infants between one month and one year old in all developed nations. Solving issues connected to the death of children is especially critical in a country like the United States, where the infant mortality rate is among the highest of any developed country.
“When a child dies, probably the worst thing the doctors can tell you is that they don’t know why,” Kahan said after his team donated the research tool last year. Driven by the memory of a pain no parent should live through, Kahan has continued to make SIDS research his personal mission, founding the Aaron Matthew SIDS Research Guild to continue raising awareness and funding at Seattle Children’s. He also leads Microsoft's efforts to infuse data science and artificial intelligence into the AI for Humanitarian Action program, a $40 million initiative that offers innovations in AI and data science to humanitarian groups. The program investigates solutions to global issues such as natural disasters, human rights abuses, and health concerns, including SIDS and other illnesses that afflict children.
Recently, new initiatives have joined Kahan’s efforts to help uncover the root causes of SIDS. Last month, the US Senate introduced a bipartisan bill that would offer grants to states, municipalities, and nonprofits to help investigate and collect data on unexplained infant deaths. The bill, named Scarlett’s Sunshine on Sudden Unexpected Death Act after another victim of SIDS, is endorsed by the Aaron Matthew SIDS Guild and other organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.
People can make their own contribution to the study – and, hopefully, reduction – of unexpected infant deaths through a campaign that launched this month. ‘First Steps For SIDS,’ launched by the Aaron Matthew SIDS Research Guild and the American SIDS Institute, allows all parents and grandparents to share videos of their child’s first steps. For a $5 donation, visitors to the site can vote for their favorite video. Parents who receive the most votes can win a series of prizes, with the most popular video submission earning the winner a trip for four to Disneyland. One hundred percent of proceeds will be used to support SIDS research.
Visit ‘First Steps For SIDS,’ submit your video, and vote on your favorite videos here: http://www.firststepsforsids.org