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May 3, 2013

My name is Dawn Peabody and I’m from Phoenix, Arizona. Five years ago my husband, Wes, and I endured an unimaginable tragedy. We lost our beautiful two-and-a-half-year-old baby girl, Maya, to heatstroke

It happened on October 18, 2008 – a date that I will remember for the rest of my life.

My in-laws were visiting, and we were all heading out to a family breakfast. As we walked to the car, Maya ran next door to say “Hi” to our neighbor.

Maya was so confident and outgoing, which was a good thing, but we always had a problem with her running off and hugging people in public, so we wanted to make sure she learned how to follow directions.

I clearly remember telling her: “Maya, muscles have memory. Do we need to practice walking to the car?”

Muscles have memory.

It’s something I used to say all the time. It was just a fun thing to say when we needed to practice a behavior. Such as “we go potty, then wash our hands.” “First the socks, then the shoes.” “Sippy cup, prayers, kisses, then bed.”

The idea is that if a behavior is repeated enough, our muscles will remember even if our brain is distracted or turned off for whatever reason.

I still think about those words every day.

She told me: “No mama, me saying hi to Mr. Andy. Me muscles know how to walk to the car.”

Because we had so many people and because I had to go directly from breakfast to work, my family split up into three cars and went off to breakfast. We had a lovely time. Maya had eggs – she was always trying to put syrup on her eggs.

After breakfast, I left for work in my own vehicle – the car the children usually rode in. I normally took Maya to work with me.

But because my in-laws were visiting, the plan was to let her stay home with the rest of the family. My father-in-law is a real cowboy, and he was going to teach them how to rope in the backyard.

So this time Wes took Maya in his car, the one he usually used only to travel to and from work. The rest of our children rode home with Grandma and Grandpa.

Normally, Wes worked on Saturdays, and when he got home, he just left the car and went into the house.

Muscles have memories.

Wes was playing with the other children and Grandpa in the back yard. An hour later, someone asked, “Where’s Maya?” and he said, “She’s sleeping with Grandma; I’ll go check on her.” 

But Maya wasn’t sleeping with Grandma or in her own bed. Wes ran to the car, and that was the moment that forever changed our lives.

I received a frantic phone call from my husband, to come quickly to the hospital. But by the time I got there it was too late. The Arizona heat had taken our daughter’s life.

For the longest time, it was so hard to accept that our little Maya was gone. And it was even harder to talk about.

Then I read about another family who lost their baby to heatstroke, and I saw the harsh comments that family had to endure. Hurtful comments that I’m sure were from good people who just didn’t understand how this kind of accident can happen. 

And that’s when I realized I needed to help. That as difficult as this has been, there can be some good to come out of it.

It’s why I’m sharing my story to encourage every parent and care provider to learn a new “muscle memory.” To never leave a child alone in a car. To always look before you lock. To get the message out about the harmful and potentially fatal effects of leaving children in hot vehicles.

No parent should have to go through this tragedy. And if my story can help prevent similar tragedies from happening to other families, then that makes it worthwhile.