COLUMBUS -- Sam and Maura Hanke welcomed their first son, Charlie, into the world in April 2010.
"We read all the baby books, had half a dozen showers and spent copious amounts of time making sure his nursery was just perfect," Maura Hanke recalled, adding, "He was born a perfect, healthy bundle... I could stare into those eyes for hours."
But the couple's visions of "zoo visits, baseball games and his first day of kindergarten" were shattered three weeks into their baby's life, when Charlie died in his sleep on his father's chest, a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Today, the Hankes work through the Charlie's Kids Foundation, the nonprofit they created in memory of their son, to educate parents and caretakers about the importance of practicing safe sleeping practices with their newborns.
That includes refraining from sharing beds, putting babies to sleep in their own cribs; ensuring youngsters are sleeping on their backs, not their stomachs; and keeping babies' sleep areas free of pillows, toys and other items.
"We want you to know that your baby is safest on her back, alone in the crib," Maura Hanke said. "This has become one of our life's missions."
On Wednesday, the Hankes joined state officials to announce the distribution of a book to new parents around Ohio to read to their children and reinforce the approved practices of safe sleep.
"The data that we collect and the infant death referrals that we see day in and day out are a constant reminder that we have a long way to go," said Leslie Redd, executive director of the SID Network of Ohio. "Three babies dying each week in Ohio from unsafe sleep is unacceptable, and it is our hope that through these collaborative efforts taking place in the state that we will all come together, share the safe sleep message and these numbers will decline."
The initiative is the latest effort by state officials to decrease the number of infant deaths in the state.
Earlier this year, Gov. John Kasich signed into law legislation requiring coroners, deputy coroners and other designated officials to complete SIDS reporting forms in cases where youngsters die before their first birthday.
The forms will be forwarded to local or regional child fatality review boards, which work "to decrease the incidence of preventable child deaths....," according to an analysis by the state's Legislative Service Commission.
Other legislation being considered by lawmakers would expand Medicaid coverage for certain non-medical postpartum services to eligible families and establish a two-year pilot project to provide further assistance through federally qualified health centers.