Brother’s crusade to stop sudden child deaths

Headshot of Katie Hampson
Katie HampsonThe West Australian
Email Katie Hampson
Chase, now 12, with sisters Paisley, left, and Eden, right.
Camera IconChase, now 12, with sisters Paisley, left, and Eden, right. Credit: Michael Wilson/The West Australian, Michael Wilson

In the lounge room, three-year-old Chase is enjoying breakfast on the couch with his dad.

Down the hallway, 15-month-old Mylee is yet to stir after being tucked safely into her cot the previous night by her dad, Sean, and kissed goodnight.

“It was just like any normal, everyday morning and we all just thought Mylee was having a little bit of a sleep-in,” Melanie Manning recalls now.

“But when I went into her bedroom, just to check on her, as soon as I saw her, I just knew.”

Until that day in June nine years ago, Melanie would have told you that she felt like the most fortunate woman in the world, with a lovely husband and a gorgeous son and daughter.

There was never any hint of the trauma that lay ahead for the Manning family.

“We put Mylee down to sleep a happy, healthy little girl,” remembers Melanie, “and when I went to get her in the morning we had lost her.

“She had died sometime during the night and there was no warning anything might happen.

“She didn’t even make a sound.”

Chase, who was already growing into a generous, thoughtful and devoted older brother, remained snuggled on the couch in front of a movie when he was startled by a noise. It was not a familiar sound.

“I won’t ever forget that sound,” says Chase, now 12. “It was my dad screaming.”

Melanie and Sean immediately called 000 and gave Mylee CPR.

They knew she was already gone but they had to try.

“The truth,” says Melanie, “is that you never stop fighting for your kids so, even though we knew we’d lost her, we kept doing CPR.

“It just wasn’t our day for a miracle.”

The rest of the day was a blur, she says, with the ambulance and police arriving and Chase being dropped to a neighbour’s house to be cared for.

The Coroner initially declared Mylee’s death as “unascertainable” so, as Melanie explains “our family walked the Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC) path for a long time”.

Then, further tests on other family members about 18 months later revealed Mylee may have had an underlying immune condition that contributed to her sudden death.

“They think she actually contracted a virus called Hib, which she had been vaccinated against, but she didn’t exhibit an immune response,” explains Melanie.

“We will always have unknowns though because you can’t do all the tests properly when a body is no longer working.”

SUDC, according to the literature, is when a seemingly healthy child, aged 12 months or older, goes to sleep and never wakes up.

Red Nose Day: Chase, now 12, witnessed the loss of his sister Mylee as a young boy and has coped with his grief by fundraising and talking at schools. Photo by Michael Wilson
Camera IconRed Nose Day: Chase, now 12, witnessed the loss of his sister Mylee as a young boy and has coped with his grief by fundraising and talking at schools. Photo by Michael Wilson Credit: Michael Wilson/The West Australian, Michael Wilson

Such deaths are sudden, unexpected and remain unexplained even after a thorough investigation and autopsy.

Encouragingly, since Red Nose Day started in 1988, there has been a dramatic drop in infants and children dying out of the blue.

That’s largely due to better funding for research and media awareness about important risk factors that are now widely known.

Things can still go wrong, however, just like they did for Mylee, even when none of those boxes is ticked.

The most current figures from Red Nose reveal nine babies and young children still die suddenly and unexpectedly every day in Australia.

That’s 3000 deaths every year leaving thousands of families, just like the Mannings, devastated.

“When I went to see Mylee at the morgue for the last time, as I was walking out, I rang Red Nose,” remembers Melanie.

“They were the first people I thought to call because losing Mylee was horrific and I didn’t want anyone else to ever have to see their child like that.

“That’s when we started our journey of fundraising for Red Nose and we took Chase along on the ride with us.” The not-for-profit has already invested $18 million into research and this year aims to raise another $700,000 during its annual Red Nose Day campaign.

The ultimate goal is to fund critical research, education and initiatives so that no more babies and children die unexpectedly in Australia.

Melanie says Red Nose Day has become a special day on the family calendar with Chase and his two younger sisters, Paisley, seven, and Eden, six, fundraising every year to help create better outcomes for other children.

Chase, a keen sportsman, also competes in the Sunshine Beach Run charity event, delivers speeches at his school about the importance of funding new research and donates toys to Perth Children’s Hospital.

Melanie believes Chase’s response to losing his beloved sister has been to try and prevent other families from experiencing similar grief.

Charity work has also been a positive way for him to channel his bereavement.

“Knowing I can help people and raise money so no other family has to lose someone they love is really important to me,” explains Chase.

“Red Nose, collecting and donating toys and celebrating Mylee’s birthday are all things that have really helped me with my grief.

“I also hope it makes Mylee feel proud of me because I loved her a lot and we were really close.

“She was so cheeky and used to have these little tantrums and was just so funny and cute.”

Red Nose Day: Chase with sisters Paisley, left, and Eden, right.
Camera IconRed Nose Day: Chase with sisters Paisley, left, and Eden, right. Credit: Michael Wilson/The West Australian, Michael Wilson

Melanie has seen firsthand how the full impact of losing a sibling can be slow to reveal itself.

She remembers desperately wanting to get Chase out of the house that morning so that he would not be left with difficult memories that would make his loss harder to cope with.

But in later years it emerged that Chase could recall a great deal more than his parents assumed a 31/2-year-old might.

“For a long time we didn’t know how much he had retained from that morning and now as a 12-year-old he can tell me,” Melanie says.

“Sadly, it turns out that both of us doing CPR on his sister is his first childhood memory.

“If I had to offer advice to any parents going through this, it would be to create a safe space for your child to talk because we noticed that as Chase has grown older, he has had more questions, or the same questions but from a different angle.

“Being honest, clear and age-appropriate is what ended up working best for our family.”

Despite such an unimaginable loss, Melanie still counts herself lucky.

She says Chase’s constant presence provided her with solace — and a much-needed distraction.

“In a lot of ways Chase saved us,” she says.

“I used to hate it when the sun came up because I’d have to survive yet another day and Chase would be like ‘Mum, I’m hungry’.

“So he forced us to get up every day when Sean and I felt like we were drowning.”

Almost a decade on — Melanie admits for a time this didn’t seem in the realm of possibility — the Mannings have moved through the worst of their grief and even emerged with a new, happy life.

“It’s like we have two families now — there is the family we had with Chase and Mylee and the family we have now with Chase, Eden and Paisley,” explains Melanie.

And though difficult to acknowledge that anything positive can come from losing a child, “there was a silver lining for our family”, says Melanie.

“Our kids became incredibly caring and philanthropic as a result of what we’ve all been through and Sean and I are so proud of them.”

Friday, August 13, is Red Nose Day. Please donate now


There are six key ways to reduce the risk of sudden infant deaths:

1. Sleep baby on their back

2. Keep head and face uncovered

3. Keep baby smoke free before and after birth

4. Safe sleeping environment night and day

5. Sleep baby in safe cot in parents’ room

6. Breastfeed baby

Rachel Ficinus, director of bereavement services at Red Nose, shares five tips for supporting bereaved siblings.

1. Kids respond to routine and stability – they like to know who is going to pick them up from school and who is going to put them to bed at night. Try to keep as much to their routine as possible and use family and friends to help with this when there are times you can’t be there.

2. Give honest and clear answers to children in an age appropriate way when they ask what has happened to their sibling. If your child asks, “What happened to my sister and why isn’t she coming back?” you could say something like, “Her heart stopped beating and she died and we miss her very much”.

3. Kids need reassurance of their parent’s love and care and that they were not responsible for their sibling’s death. For example, children may think that their baby sister died because they didn’t share their toys with them. Reassure your child that there was nothing they did that caused this to happen.

4. Be prepared to talk to your child in the immediate aftermath and also in years to come. Grief is ongoing and as a child grows their understanding of death will change and they will come to you with questions. Answer them honestly and clearly to help them understand what happened and acknowledge the feelings they may have.

5. Engage your children in the funeral in an age-appropriate way and offer memory-making activities such as creating a memory box, planting a tree or creating a piece of jewellery for them to keep. Link these activities with rituals you can develop as a family.

More at

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails