Sally Clark tragically lost both children's sons shortly after birth. In 1996, 11-week-old Christopher lost consciousness after he was put to bed and never woke up. Two years later, 8-week-old Harry was found dead in his hopping chair.
The doctors initially concluded that the first boy had died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – in which a seemingly healthy baby died without warning, without any apparent cause. But after Clark's second child died, she was charged with murder by local prosecutors. According to scientists who analyzed the widely publicized case, Clark was falsely convicted on the basis of statistics. A public prosecutor's expert claimed that two cases of SIDS in a wealthy family were astronomically high ̵
Their defenders said the numbers assumed that SIDS strikes at random, although we had no idea at the time if that was true.
An important study published in the Lancet on Wednesday shows a link between SIDS and a rare genetic mutation that makes some families more vulnerable than others – and a possible explanation for situations like Clark's.
Research included 278 infants who died of SIDS, also known as "crib death" or "child death", and 729 healthy controls. Four of those who died of SIDS had a variant of a gene called SCN4A, which was associated with impaired respiratory muscle, while it did not occur in the control group. Authors Michael Hanna of the Center for Neuromuscular Diseases of the United Kingdom Medical Research Council and Michael Ackerman of the Mayo Clinic in the US wrote that these mutations are extremely rare and are typically found in less than 5 out of every 100,000 people.
This genetics is only one of the factors that could contribute to SIDS and explained the "triple risk hypothesis" of the state in which a vulnerable infant is exposed to external stress during a critical developmental phase.
The researchers suggest that the genetic mutation could leave some babies with weaker respiratory muscles, so they would not be able to correct their breathing as fast or as well as they sleep, in response to things like tobacco smoke or one stressful sleeping position.
"Our study is the first to link a genetic cause of weaker breathing muscles to sudden infant death syndrome and suggests that genes that control respiratory muscles may be important in this state, but further research is needed to confirm and fully understand this relationship, "said Hanna in a statement.
Hanna and Ackerman noted that the study has several limitations, including the fact that all participants were white and of European descent, so it is unclear whether other ethnic and ethnic groups would be affected in the same way.
In the United States, minority groups, including Native American and black babies, tend to be at greater risk for SIDS than their white counterparts in 2015, the last year for which numbers are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1,600 babies died of SIDS.
Since 1994, the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development has advocated a "back to sleep" approach to educating parents on how babies sleep on their backs can reduce the risk of SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics' Sleep Guidelines urge parents to sleep in the same room, but not in the
As for Clark, her conviction was overturned on appeal after she had served three years of life imprisonment. She died in 2007 at her home. No cause of death was stated. In a statement issued by her family, sadness and anger expressed about her situation. She said that "she has never fully recovered from the effects of this appalling miscarriage of justice."