It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. On April 6, 2015, just hours after dropping off her 11-week-old son Shepard at daycare, Edmond, Oklahoma-based mom Ali Dodd received a frantic call from the woman who ran the program. Shepard wasn’t breathing, and EMTs were performing CPR at her licensed in-home facility. “She said, ‘Ali, get here quick. I don’t know what happened! I put him down for a nap, and when I came back to check on him, he was blue,’” Dodd tells Us Weekly in a new interview.
By the time Dodd and her husband, Derek, arrived at the hospital, it was too late. Shepard was gone. “I kissed him all over his face and apologized hundreds of times,” the physical therapist, 33, tells Us. “When your child dies, you wish you could die.”
Shepard's mom and dad believe his death was 100 percent preventable.
According to a police report, Shepard was swaddled and then placed, unbuckled, in a newborn bucket car seat for two hours without any supervision. While the infant was sleeping, Dodd says his head fell down into a chin-to-chest position, and without the muscle strength to lift his neck, he suffocated. Shepard’s official cause of death was positional asphyxiation. Making matters worse, the child provider had recently been cited by the Department of Human Services for unsafe sleep practices.
In October 2015, KFOR-TV reported that the daycare owner was never charged because the coroner’s report showed Sudden Unexplained Infant Death as the official cause of death. According to the station, her license was revoked several months after Shepard's death.
“When you lose a baby, you lose their whole life,” Dodd tells Us. “You lose birthdays. You lose Christmases. You lose kindergarten and the first day of school. You lose everything.”
Dodd and Derek, who are also parents of son Presley, 6, and daughter Esmé, 3 months, are fighting to protect other babies and have since created Shepard’s Law, in Oklahoma. “It’s a bill which educates daycare providers about safe sleep practices,” Dodd tells Us. “And we have four more bills heading to the committee.”
Meanwhile, the Dodds remember Shepard every day. “When we were planning Shepard’s funeral, we were toying around with the idea of not wearing black, and that’s when our oldest, Presley, goes, 'Well, everyone knows that Shepard’s favorite color was green!’” recalls Dodd. “So we all wore green, and we’ve worn green every day since Shepard’s passing. That’s how we thought of Esmé’s name — Esmé can be short for Esmeralda, which means Emerald.”
The Dodd family created Shepard's Watch to help spread awareness about safe sleep habits for babies.
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