FACT Board Member Spotlight- Judy Kurtz

FACT Board Member Spotlight- Judy Kurtz

November 13, 2017

To kick off our blog, FACT will be interviewing several members of our Board of Trustees to highlight their work in Virginia communities.


Judy Kurtz, Sudden Death in the Young (SDY) Case Registry Coordinator, has been a FACT Board of Trustees Member since 2014.  Judy currently serves as the Board Treasurer and chairs the Grants Committee.

Tell us about your work with the SDY Case Registry Project.

The registry was developed to more accurately count the number of cases and to better understand the causes and risk factors for infants, children and young adults who die suddenly and unexpectedly.  The information learned from this registry will inform strategies to prevent future deaths.  Included in the registry are deaths from cardiac (SCD) or neurological causes such as epilepsy (SUDEP), or those attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID). Virginia is one of 10 states participating in this national project which is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

So far the registry has identified many infant deaths, child drownings, and some sudden deaths in teens.  We know there are some cardiac and neurological conditions that aren’t commonly diagnosed in children that could be contributing to these deaths. Part of the project involves obtaining genetic samples for studying cardiac and neurological profiles to see if there are common threads.

What kind of measures would prevent unexpected deaths?

Targeted and coordinated safe sleep education for at risk families is extremely important. In our study there were 22 infant deaths associated with unsafe sleep practices in 2015.  I’ve seen that the families with sleep related deaths also have a lot of associated risk factors, such as limited prenatal care, parental substance abuse and unstable living situations.  In many cases the infants were born sick and spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit.  Most infants who died, had cribs but weren’t using them correctly. Therefore, safe sleep education needs to holistically address these associated risk factors in addition to safe sleep education.  Other sudden death prevention measures include better school physicals for school athletes, cardiac defibrillators in public areas such as schools, better child supervision around water and improving the general public’s awareness of sudden cardiac and neurological deaths in the child population.

Describe the communities you work in. What sets them apart from other parts of Virginia?

Data collected for the SDY Case Registry covers four communities in the Tidewater region of Virginia: Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach. In the Tidewater region there are some issues that stem from its high military population.  The region is more transient than other places in the state because people are coming and going as part of their military work. This separates families from their extended families and influences people’s options for childcare.  Often income levels don’t meet the expense involved in obtaining licensed, quality, safe childcare. While working on the SDY Case Registry I’ve noticed that there are limited choices for affordable childcare for low-income families.  Also, many families work evenings and weekends and childcare providers offering flexible schedules for parents are limited.

The lack of affordable quality childcare is a growing problem across Virginia and the nation, how can we work to fill that gap?

When I worked in California at the Westside Children’s Center in Los Angeles, the agency offered an early education program that included support services such as child development specialists, ongoing education and visiting nurses to incentivize childcare providers to provide safe, licensed daycare. Because gaining licensure can be a major financial, personal, and time burden on childcare facilities and especially for family daycare homes, it would be helpful to provide incentives for licensure while also helping them provide quality, safe childcare.

How does being on the FACT Board intersect with your work?

FACT works to prevent family violence to ensure that people are healthy and contributing members of society across their lifespans. Many risk factors for sudden death in the young intersect with the same factors that contribute to family violence such as:  substance misuse, domestic violence, unemployment and insecure housing.  Kids shouldn’t die.  If there’s a way to figure out why this is happening and prevent these deaths, it not only ensures that more children will live full and productive lives, but it will also lead to stronger more resilient families.

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