Searching for Answers: Death of Aggie's Son Unexplained

BRYAN - Most people have heard of SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. But have you ever heard of SUDC, or Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood?

It's a nightmare that became all too real for an Aggie graduate, whose 14-month-old boy went down for a nap and never woke up.

"This is a baby we prayed and prayed and prayed for," recalled Jessica Pieratt.

It took a year for J. and Jessica Pieratt to become pregnant with John Moss, Jr., known as Moss.

"I don't want to say he was a perfect child, but he was close to the perfect baby," Jessica said.

"He had a way of engaging with people that was rare at that age," Moss' dad, J. said.

As first time parents, J. and Jessica did everything to protect their baby.

"From the day Moss was born, we followed all the SIDS guidelines,” Jessica said. “We didn't have bumpers in his bed. We put him on his back to sleep."

So when he turned a year old, the couple breathed a sigh of relief. But two months later, Jessica put Moss down for a nap and tragedy struck.

"I walked in and he was face down in the crib and I noticed he wasn't breathing,” Jessica remembered. “I picked him up and yelled for J. and we began to do CPR on him.”

Medics were able to get a pulse before transferring Moss to a hospital. 24-hours later and after exhausting all efforts, the Pieratt's had to make the hardest decision of their life.

"We gave him a last bath and we got in bed with him and they took him off life support," J. remembered.

Jessica added, "Having those last few moments of rocking him before we let him go, were moments that we still hold onto and I think about every single day."

Hours, days and weeks passed and next to no answers for why Moss died.

"Children that are healthy like that shouldn't just have this happen without some kind of explanation," Jessica said.

And the Pieratt's aren't alone in wanting one.

"Our best estimate is that about 200 times a year, toddlers pass away where a cause is not clearly defined. That's according to the CDC," SUDC Foundation Executive Director Laura Crandall said.

Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood is similar to SIDS, but instead of infants, it affects children ages one to four.

Laura Crandall founded the SUDC Foundation after her 15 month old daughter died unexpectedly. For years, she has been pushing for legislation to create a standardized approach to investigating these types of tragedies. All the work recently paid off. The Sudden Unexpected Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act was signed into law by President Obama this past December.

"It's a validation that this is a problem," Crandall said. "We need to understand and we need to do better by our children by trying to find answers to what happened to them, so we can prevent it in others."

When Moss died, the family was living with his grandparents, Bobby and Jan Jenkins, while the Pieratts renovated their own home.

"So we kind of see it twice," Bobby Jenkins said. "Our own loss for Moss which is so dear and so difficult, and then to see your children go through that."

Jan added, "We've got to be able to collect this research and get correct numbers from autopsy reports and then turn that over for research and hopefully one day, we can connect the dots and maybe get an answer."

"You're heart broken," Jessica said. "There are other joys in life that can help you put your heart back together, but those cracks and scars are always there."

And there is joy. When Moss died, Jessica was four months pregnant with Madeline. Her middle name is Moss, named after the big brother she never got to meet.

"She's kind of been our saving grace," J. said. "We've been very grateful that we can look at her and be reminded of him."

"She is so comforting to all of us, so for me, just seeing her makes each day better," grandfather Bobby Jenkins said.

Moss, who was a healthy toddler, had a slight fever in the hours before he died, so eventually his cause of death was ruled a common virus.

On February 5, Moss would have been two years old. Blue balloons with Moss' picture were released by friends and family from all across the country in memory of the toddler, who they say never met a stranger.

The family is considering starting a foundation in Moss' name to raise money for research, and the SUDC Foundation, which provides information and support to 600 families around the world.

For more information on the SUDC Foundation, click the link under related links.