Did a Crying Baby Cause 16 Year Old's Death?

Filed under: In The News

16-year-old Danielle Pilot was training to be a early childhood caregiver; as part of her coursework, the British teen was responsible for a life-size computerized baby doll, designed to cry on and off throughout the day and night. But after just 12 hours of looking out for the doll, Danielle was complaining of a lack of sleep. Her father called the school, Northbrook College, in Worthing, England, and said that he was returning the doll and that Danielle would not be continuing with the project.

The next day, Danielle died, and her father blames the day she spent caring for the pretend baby.

But Danielle also had a rare and unusual heart condition: Her heart was on the wrong side of her chest, facing backward. She also had two holes in the chambers that pump blood. An autopsy after her death revealed that her heart muscles had thickened. Dr. Mary Sheppard, a heart specialist, explained that "A heavy heart makes you more liable to complications and can in itself be a cause of death."

Dr Elijah Behr, a sudden death specialist, agreed: "We know why [Danielle's death] happened, we just don't know what triggered it." He added, "Stress and anxiety from the baby are factors that could have worsened her condition but it would be speculative to say it was a definite cause of the events."

Danielle's father disagrees; he blames the pretend baby squarely for his daughter's death. "It was very stressful and in the morning she looked like a new mum herself," he told the inquest. "I question whether someone with her heart condition should have been given one of these virtual babies."

Officials at Danielle's school say that she and her parents knew what she was getting into when she started this particular course; David Percival, the principal of Northbrook College, said that the mock baby is "issued with instructions and parents are asked to consent to its use. Students are also given access to advice outside normal hours if they have concerns."

Danielle's tragic story brought back memories of my own early days as a mother. My first son was premature and had to be fed every three hours; feedings took over an hour, which meant that I was lucky to get 45 or 50 minutes sleep before I had to do it all over again. I was exhausted; every part of my body ached. Fortunately, I was in excellent health, otherwise I cannot imagine how I would have gotten through those first few weeks. I can, however, imagine how lack of sleep could take it's toll on someone with a serious heart defect.

Danielle appeared healthy; her heart condition had never stopped her from participating in outdoor activities, or doing all the fun things kids her age do. But the autopsy showed that her condition was worsening; and as Dr. Sheppard points out, a death like this can be "very difficult for families because people appear to be doing so well -- it comes as a bolt from the blue."

So is this just a case of terrible timing, or is the fake baby responsible for Danielle's death? What do you think?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.