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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Advising New Moms to Use Caution

Published September 9, 2015 11:01 AM by Debra Karplus

Through a friend, I heard an incredibly sad story that I share over and over, especially with pregnant teens and new moms. An upper middle class, highly educated couple left their two month old with an experienced nanny while they went out for an appointment with their older child, after which they wanted to do some errands. While at the mall, they received the phone call that no parent would ever want to get. The nanny had left the infant on the sofa for just a brief moment to warm a bottle of milk, and when she returned the baby was face down on the floor, unconscious. Paramedics were called before the parents, and the baby ended up in the hospital intensive care unit for weeks, before returning home severely disabled.

Occupational therapy practitioners, among many other health care professionals have been working intensely with this baby, who has many of the symptoms of traumatic brain injury (TBI), in the months since this tragic and unnecessary accident. Gross and fine motor problems exist as do visual problems and many developmental delays. OTs certainly do not need job security from avoidable incidents such as this on their caseload!

Careful and responsible people often forget the split second that it takes to transform an idyllic family life into a disastrous one. A long time ago, another family recalls their young child, sitting and eating in a baby high chair, had wrapped a telephone cord around his neck while the parent momentarily had stepped into the next room. Thankfully, that child was okay and is all grown up now. One of the saddest cases that I have worked with was a few years ago. A baby was born "brain dead" as the result of a home birth gone terribly wrong.

Life throws us enough curve balls, and it's especially sad when a tragedy could have been easily avoided.

But we as occupational therapy practitioners need to remind the parents that we work with, regardless of their education level or their social class, not to assume that if a baby has not yet rolled over, that its first "success" with that skill can't lead to a lifetime of very serious trouble.

All of us can admit to some "it'll only be a second" things that we might have done. Perhaps we left a sleeping child in the car with all windows rolled open, but parked unattended in the driveway during the peak of summer heat while we went into the house to bring in the groceries. Or maybe we set the young baby in the middle of a king-sized bed when we went downstairs to stir a pot of soup.

What personal or professional experiences have you had as an occupational therapy practitioner? How did you deal the with parents' expression of guilt?

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