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Monitor T-shirt and SIDS

7/24/99

Dear Friends,

Articles hit the news the past couple of weeks regarding an electronic monitor t-shirt and SIDS. More information follows. We have received many e-mail messages asking for more information. The public has been on an information roller coaster, the result of an explosion of medical reports, each heralding a "breakthrough in SIDS research." We need to help people separate myth from fact and risk factor from cause. We will post information as it becomes available to us.

Please keep the following in mind:

- When it comes to media coverage of SIDS, we often feel a sense of frustration in being confronted with misleading headlines, announcements of so-called breakthroughs and statements taken out of context.

- Please read the article, "Mass Media's" Role in SIDS Education, at <http://sids-network.org/media.htm>.

- The article does not claim that the monitor t-shirt use prevents SIDS.

We are currently gathering more information about this specific issue and will keep you updated.

Thanks!

Chuck Mihalko
Executive Manager
SIDS Network

Shirt May Track At-Risk Babies

(c) The Associated Press

By LAURAN NEERGAARD

WASHINGTON (AP) - Running to the park or the grocery store with 7-week-old Matthew Condon takes a lot of work: His parents also lug along a heavy monitor wired to Matthew's tiny chest to sound the alarm if he suddenly stops breathing.

That high-pitched alarm can be lifesaving for babies like Matthew, who has a condition that causes apnea - brief stops in breathing - in small infants. The monitors also are widely used for babies deemed at risk of SIDS, the mysterious sudden infant death syndrome.

But they're not the easiest solution. They're heavy, the sticky electrodes irritate babies' tender skin, and the wires frighten parents and can loosen to sound false alarms. A million false alarms, one doctor says in frustration.

So Georgia researchers are developing an easier heartbeat-and-breathing monitor for babies at risk of sudden death: A high-tech T-shirt with electronic sensors sewn into the fabric.

Matthew, who lives in Alpharetta, Ga., tried on a prototype, and the shirt hugged his chest snugly enough that the sensors were in just the right spot to monitor his heart.

It's a twist on a shirt developed by Georgia Tech engineers for the military to beam back to doctors the condition of soldiers wounded on the battlefield.

For Dr. Gary Freed, who is awaiting permission to begin testing the shirts on babies at Emory University this fall, converting the technology for civilian use is timely because more and more infants need at-home monitoring.

``A lot of that has to do with the managed care and insurance,'' says Freed, whose Emory center cares for 900 babies on monitors. Premature or underweight babies, considered high risk, ``normally would have been left in the hospital for a longer period, but instead they're putting them out sooner with the monitors.''

All parents now are told to put babies to sleep on their backs, not on their stomachs - a proven way to reduce the risk of SIDS.

Putting high-risk babies on a cardiorespiratory monitor is a little controversial. Some critics say a baby predestined for SIDS cannot be revived even if the monitor blares a warning, and that there's not enough risk to justify monitoring preemies who appear healthy.

But many doctors say monitoring high-risk infants is important. At the least, it records heart rates that might help diagnose certain treatable illnesses, and can reassure parents who had another infant die.

For apnea, monitors can be lifesaving. Dr. Joe Hageman of Northwestern University's Evanston Hospital recalls a baby suspected to have outgrown his apnea after no attacks for five weeks. Then his monitor detected three attacks in a row. Doctors revived him.

``It makes you crazy because you can't predict'' which baby is really at risk until a monitor blares, he said.

With today's monitors, a Velcro-snapped belt holds rubber electrodes on the infant's chest. Wires connect the electrodes to a cable that plugs into the monitor itself, the size of a small VCR.

If those connections slip - babies do wiggle and parents don't always hook electrodes firmly because they irritate babies' skin - the monitor emits a loud and frightening false alarm.

And as older babies roll over and scoot around, some parents fear they'll get tangled in the wires and strangle, so they abandon the monitors.

The military isn't yet pursuing the shirt, so Georgia Tech lead engineer Sundaresan Jayaraman is converting it to civilian uses - and the baby-sized SIDS shirts are poised to be the first studied medically.

The first prototypes will eliminate putting electrodes on babies' skin. Wires still will lead to the monitor, but from the bottom of the shirt, not near the baby's neck. If those prove to record heartbeat as well as old-fashioned electrodes, the next step is a simple wireless shirt with a beeper-sized monitor clipped to it.

But the shirt can be customized to various needs, says Jayaraman, who is seeking manufacturers. He's getting interest from firefighters in a shirt to detect hazardous gases and wonders if heart attack survivors could one day benefit from wearing a heart-monitor shirt home from the hospital.

At an estimated $25 to $35 a shirt, he calls it a good buy.

EDITOR'S NOTE - Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.

AP-NY-07-23-99 0203EDT

Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.

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