Over the summer, my husband and I looked at a few homes, and we noticed that many homes seemed to have one thing in common: All of the children's bedrooms were on different floors than the master bedroom.
Instantly, visions of how different our life could be flashed through my mind. On one hand, um, awesomeness: After years of children filing in and out of our room at all hours of the day and night, how amazing would it be to actually have a real sanctuary away from our little blessings?
But on the other hand, visions of everything that could terribly, terribly wrong also flashed through my mind. What would happen in the event of a fire? Would we be able to hear them if there was an emergency in the middle of the night? How could I possibly make living on two separate levels work?
Before we made any decisions, I did some research and found a heartbreaking story of just how dangerous having kids on a different level can really be. Remembering Sammie Joyce Volmert is a Facebook page started by Keri Hall Volmert, who shared the tragic incident that happened with her 17-month-old daughter, Sammie Joyce.
What happened is something out of every parent's worst nightmare. When Sammie's dad went to retrieve her from her crib, like he did every morning, he entered the room and found his daughter dead.
"The desperation and screeching panic in my husband's voice the next morning as he went to retrieve her from upstairs is something I will never forget," Volmert described. "I was in the kitchen making coffee and as soon as he screamed 'Keri!' I knew something was terribly wrong. I froze and he yelled my name again as he ran down the upstairs hallway."
The horrified parents tried to resuscitate their baby, unsuccessfully, and she was pronounced dead 50 minutes later at the emergency room. They would later learn that the cause of their daughter's death was a malfunctioning upstairs heater. Their house was controlled by two separate heating systems, so the parents—sleeping downstairs—were unaware as the temperature climbed during the night, eventually killing their daughter.
Volmert explained that although the upstairs thermostat was set to 72 degrees, the temperature actually reached well over 100 degrees. Doctors told the grieving parents that their daughter probably never even woke up, as children can't regulate their body temperatures like adults can.
"I never would have imagined that would be the last time I would see her alive."
Volmert has shared their story in hopes of raising awareness about how parents can help to protect their own children—especially if they are on different levels in their houses. As Volmert described on her page, she was heartbroken to realize too late that although she had taken so many precautions when her babies were little to ensure they were safe while they were sleeping—sleep sacks to prevent blankets getting on their faces, no stuffed animals or pillows, keeping them in bassinets in their own rooms until they were six months old—but had never considered room temperature to be a possible hazard.
Sadly, the Volmerts aren't the only family to lose a child to a malfunctioning heating system and they, along with other bereft families, urge other parents to take simple precautions to avoid any danger. "We want others (especially those with two-story homes) to hear Sammie's story so that children can be protected and other families spared from the horrific grief we are forced to endure each day," she explains.
I have to admit that the Volmerts' story was incredibly difficult to read and almost overwhelming because it feels like everywhere you look, there are dangers to our kids. But, reading her story, I did focus on three simple ways I could keep my own kids safe if we end up choosing a house that will have our children on separate levels of the home:
1. Get a baby monitor with a room temperature alarm. I didn't know these existed, but they might be the most effective way to prevent a death like Sammie's.
2. Have a smoke detector and carbon monoxide monitor in every room and hallway that are also linked to a downstairs, so if one goes off, they all do.
3. Place ladders in every room in case of a fire and be sure to run through a fire drill with the entire family.
Sammie would have been 3 years old last month and her family honored her life by donating supplies to victims of Hurricane Harvey. They ended up taking a full Suburban and a 16-foot trailer down to Texas to drop off donations to families who had lost so much. A family who has given so much already continues to give on through their daughter's story and to other families who are grieving.