Owlet Cares is our advocacy initiative that is dedicated to making a positive impact in the lives of babies and parents. One way we do this is by partnering with nonprofits all over the world who share our mission. These groups participate in our 3:1 match program. When they purchase one Owlet product, we match it with two, meaning three families are reached.
Each month, we shine a spotlight on one of our foundation partners and the important work they are doing. This month, we’d like to introduce you to Karl Wadell of River’s Gift in Australia. Waddell is co-founder of River’s Gift and River’s dad, and shares his family’s experience in his words.
Through Dad’s Eyes
By: Karl Waddell
This is the story of my beautiful boy, River, whose 128-day journey left an enduring mark on our family and the community around us. River was my first child, born in July 2011. River’s passing, and his legacy of inspiration through River’s Gift, is making an impact that few people might ever accomplish in a lifetime.
I still have very clear and fond memories of River’s birth, at the Geelong Hospital in Australia. I'd never experienced anything like it before and remember thinking to myself, I'm never going to complain of a sore thumb or anything of that nature again after witnessing Alex undergo the incredible and beautiful experience of childbirth. I was very emotional.
River was just a beautiful, bubbly little boy. He cried from time to time, of course, particularly when he wanted to feed. He was healthy. He was putting on weight and meeting his marks.
I have very clear memories of him being on the changing table and giving him a little tickle. River was getting to that age where he was engaging with eye contact, and he was starting to respond and interact, that age where you’re starting to feel like they're becoming little people.
There was a little song that I would sing to him as I cuddled him, trying to get him off to sleep called 'Daddy's Little Boy'. It was so incredibly special to have River in our lives.
Our time with River was so special, and we had a close connection with the neonatal group and the mothers’ groups that Alex was a part of. When we experienced the loss of River, the impact on our family, together with those around us, was immense.
Losing River to SIDS was just heart-wrenching; far from anything that any parent should ever have to face and endure.
The White Butterfly
In the months following River’s passing, I wanted to know that River was still somehow with me in a spiritual sense. I remember thinking, is he somewhere? Is he still in existence, but just not in human form? To this day, I feel that he has a strong presence and he’s here with us.
A special sign for us as a family is a white butterfly. If one flies near us, it makes us think it’s him and feel that he’s nearby. Also, for me, River lives through our rainbow children, Shiloh and Bodhi. I've got a beautiful relationship with them and we openly speak about their big brother.
The Formation of River’s Gift
In the weeks after losing River and learning that SIDS no longer had the awareness and attention profile that it once did in Australia, we felt the need to create a movement and inspire change. Our charity, River’s Gift, was born. And now, more than a decade on, we remain focused on driving and funding research and delivering infant safe sleep education.
From the beginning, research funding was our major driver. River slept safely, as per the recommended guidelines, and still lost his life to SIDS. And we knew he wasn’t alone, yet very little SIDS research funding, if any, was being provided to drive it. We passionately felt that we wanted to learn more about the underlying physiological mechanisms of SIDS.
Today, as part of our organisational strategy, we have an equal focus on the creation and delivery of infant safe sleep education. We know that a strong percentage of infant deaths in sleep are aligned with unsafe sleep practices. We’re currently in discussion with a leading professional in the field and are looking at embarking on an innovative project around the creation of digital resources over the next 12 months.
Having previously funded three Australian early career researchers to undertake SIDS studies in Boston at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital, we’ve more recently turned our focus and direct attention to genetic studies being undertaken within Australia.
We've recently embarked on a three-year project with the University of South Australia, funding $200,000 over three years around genomic testing, genetic research and SIDS. As part of the project, we’re encouraging other families from across the globe to take part and contribute biological material, including blood samples and heel-prick cellular materials.
The university houses a small biobank, which is a repository of biological material. It's the cellular material of 25 infants who have died from SIDS, together with parental DNA material. Together with my and Alex’s DNA. River’s heel-prick sample from birth forms part of the biobank resource.
Our Owlet Connection
We first met Kurt Workman and the co-founders of Owlet at the ISPID Conference in Amsterdam in 2014. We learned of their passion for creating an innovative brand and product that would make an impact in the world of families and infants. They had a strong air of integrity about them and made us feel that they truly cared and genuinely held compassion for families that had experienced such terrifying loss.
I was privileged to be invited to attend the Every Baby Summit in Salt Lake City in February 2018, and was honoured to meet fellow bereaved parents who had walked a similar journey. We’re so excited for Owlet’s advancements with the FDA and the pursuit of medical endorsement and are eagerly following the progress in this space; both in the USA and here in Australia.
My Message to River
“Rivvy, from the moment I knew you were in Mum’s tummy, my life headed in a special direction – one that would give Dad great purpose, all that comes with being a Dad.
Mum and Dad, along with your little sister Shiloh and brother Bodhi, will forever speak your name with our hearts full of love and pride, and our eyes full of bright smiles and gratitude, for the footprint you’ve left in our lives and the impact you’re making in the lives of so many. I love you, and please keep the white butterflies crossing Dad’s path to remind me you are near.” X
Karl Waddell developed a career in healthcare recruitment in both Australia and the UK. Karl has an unwavering passion and drive to create a significant footprint in the world of SIDS research and infant safe sleep education.
*The quotes, stories, and experiences included here are those of the individuals and are not representative of Owlet's views or claims about our product. Individuals were not paid and did not submit their information as part of any paid promotion by Owlet.
Disclaimer: Dream Sock® is a smart baby monitor designed and intended to continuously learn from the data it collects to help you understand your baby’s sleep patterns. BabySat™ is a prescription-only device. Dream Sock and BabySat are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or other condition, including but not limited to, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and/or Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Medical decisions should never be made using Dream Duo and Dream Sock data. BabySat, Dream Duo and Dream Sock should not substitute for the care and oversight of an adult or consultation with medical professionals.