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Tragedy at Military Day Care

(CN) - Daycare staff at a North Carolina military base left a 4-month-old baby face down on the floor until he suffocated to death, his parents claim in Federal Court.

Rachel and Jason Degenhard, of Harnett County, N.C., both active service members of the U.S. Army, sued the government in the federal court in Raleigh on Monday.

They say that after spending years trying to conceive a child together, Rachel Degenhard finally gave birth to Santino, a "healthy, well-developed baby," on Oct. 25, 2011.

The parents claim that, within two hours of leaving their four-month-old child at the army's Pope Child Development Center (now known as Eagle Child Development Center) on the Fort Bragg military base on March 9, 2012, (Rachel was told to rush to the Womack Army Medical Center.

Video surveillance allegedly showed that staff had placed Santino in a bouncy seat for nearly an hour and a half - six times longer than what daycare operating procedures allow.

Staff member Vera Grant then placed Santino "on the floor by one arm, which is a violation of North Carolina General Statute," the parents say.

Grant then allegedly "placed Santino face down on a vinyl mat at 7:13 a.m. At 7:16 a.m. Ms. Grant put a loose, soft blanket on the vinyl mat and left Santino face down, in direct violation of Pope CDC's own safe sleep policy requiring him to be placed on his back. Ms. Grant then left Santino alone while she performed noncaregiving functions which included leaving the room on more than one occasion."

Though video footage shows the infant "fussing and trying to lift his head[,] Ms. Grant did not respond to Santino's fussing," the plaintiffs allege.

Santino "stopped moving completely at 7:24 a.m.," the complaint states. "At 7:26 a.m., another staff member, Carolyn Hinton, came in and commented to Ms. Grant that she thought Santino was 'a stuffed animal' based on his position, face down, on the blanket."

Even after another staff member, Linda Faircloth, "looked at Santino because she too thought his face down position was highly unusual," no one touched or approached the child for a total of nearly 20 minutes, when Grant finally picked him up, the parents claim.

"Upon picking him up and turning his face to the camera, he is visibly blue," the complaint states. "Ms. Grant carried him across the room and did not notice that he was blue and unmoving until she placed him down in the crib. At this point, Ms. Grant attempted to administer CPR and emergency services were called."

Paramedics allegedly found Santino in cardiac arrest, bleeding from his nose and mouth.

The infant was successfully resuscitated after about 25 minutes of CPR at the Womack Army Medical Center, and he was eventually transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Cumberland County, N.C., the plaintiffs say.

However, once there, the baby "was breathing spontaneously over the intubation in an agonal kussmaul pattern that is indicative of brain injury, and he was comatose," his parents claim. "His admitting diagnoses included cardiopulmonary arrest and hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. His initial exam and unremarkable medical history led the attending physician to suspect either an inflicted injury or accidental suffocation."

The parents say that "after five days of continuous monitoring and full neurological testing, Santino's treating physicians determined that he would not recover neurological function and would either be in a persistent vegetative state or unable to survive without artificial support."

The Degenhards say they ultimately consented to remove the life support apparatus, and Santino died just after midnight on the morning of March 15, 2012.

The plaintiffs say the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Army's Criminal Investigation Division later investigated and found six separate violations of North Carolina statute as well as Army Regulations violations.

As a result of the investigation, Grant was placed on the state's list of individuals responsible for the serious neglect of a minor, they say.

The Degenhards are seeking $10 million in damages on wrongful death and emotional distress claims.

They are represented by Benjamin Cochran and Jessica Beyer with Hardison & Cochran of Raleigh.

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