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Remembering Joel

July 24, 2013
Joel Gray

My name is Stephanie Gray. I live in Nashville, Tennessee. On August 7, 2012 I experienced the most devastating event of a parent’s life: the death of my child.

That day, a Tuesday, began with my husband, Aaron, leaving for work while I finished feeding our sweet 5-month-old son, Joel, his morning bottle. That was one of my favorite times of the day. I would lie peacefully in bed with Joel, enjoying the quiet, watching him drink his milk.  Soon after, I was rousing my other sleepy boys from their beds so that they could get ready for their first full week of school.

That morning was more hectic than usual. My older three sons had just started a new school year and Joel was going to his second day of daycare. To add to the busy morning, my kitchen was undergoing major renovations, so the house was a mess and most of my kitchen items were stacked in the living room.

I rushed around trying to get everyone ready and fed in time for school. In the back of my mind, I thought of all of the work that I had to get done after I dropped the boys off for the day. I’m an attorney with a small law practice that I run from home and my stack of cases was starting to add up.

I took my two middle boys to school first around 7:50 am. They attended an elementary school about a mile from my house, next door to the church where Joel would attend his second day of daycare.  

After I dropped the boys off, I went back home to my oldest son who was waiting there with baby Joel. It was 8 a.m. and he and Joel did not begin school until 9 a.m.

I fed Joel some cereal and after he ate, he was very sleepy and fussy. He usually went down for his morning nap by 8:30, but with the new routine he would be in the car at that time. I loaded Joel in the back seat of my minivan, put his diaper bag in the floor board under his seat and pulled the sun shade down to keep the bright August sun out of his little eyes. My older son got in the back seat with baby Joel, and we began the approximate 2-mile ride to the middle school. 

Joel was fussy, so my son put Joel’s pacifier in his mouth, and Joel was instantly quiet. The drop off line at the middle school took quite a bit longer than usual because it was a new school year, and there were many first-time parents trying to maneuver the system.

By the time I said good-bye to my older son, it was close to 9 a.m. I drove back toward my street and began thinking again of all of the cases I had to work on and all of the client calls I had to return. I breathed a sigh of relief because for the first time in months I could work from home without having to juggle my four boys at the same time.

I worked steadily through the day getting my law practice in order. It was 2:27 pm when I looked at the clock and realized it was time to pick up Joel. When I arrived at the daycare and went to the door, Joel’s teacher was at the entrance. 

I looked at her and said, “I am so sorry I was a few minutes late. I realized that Joel was not with her and asked her where he was.

She looked at me puzzled and said, “He isn’t here. You didn’t drop him off this morning.” 

I was so utterly confused that I responded, “Well, where is he?” 

It is very difficult to put into words what I was feeling at this very moment. I remember my thoughts swirling in a frenzy and thinking, “My God! Where is my baby? He has not been with me all day and he isn’t at home!” 

This thought process lasted maybe a second, but it seemed at that moment that time stood still. I felt as though everything around me was spinning very fast and I was frozen with fear. 

Then it hit me. Joel was in the car. I ran to my minivan and pulled open the door where Joel’s car seat was.

I will never forget the horrible image of my once chubby, healthy baby boy as he lay lifeless in his car seat. I immediately pulled him from the car and began screaming to the daycare employees to call 911.

I ran into the building and placed Joel in the sink. I frantically splashed water on him and tried to rip off his clothes to try to cool him down. Then a daycare worker told me to lay him on one of the sleep mats so that she could administer CPR.

I called my husband in a hysterical panic to tell him what happened. Emergency personnel rushed to the scene, but it was too late. Our baby boy was gone. I was living my worst nightmare.

I think about Joel every second of every day. I never thought that something like this could happen to me. I don’t want any other family to have to live with what I go through every day.

That’s why it’s so important to tell everyone you know about the dangers of heatstroke.. Please help me honor Joel’s memory by making sure we don’t lose another child to heatstroke.

Please remember to ACT:

A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you’re not in it so kids don’t get in on their own. 

C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you’re not following your normal routine.

T: Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.