A Loves Park woman is on a mission to spread the word about a disease that killed her 1-year-old son.
Tori Smith and her family welcomed Sterling Smith into this world in October 2010 as a healthy baby boy.
"He was such a funny little character," said his mother Tori. But what Smith didn't know, is that her son was suffering inside.
"He started getting what we thought was an upper respiratory infection or a cold of some sort that just wouldn't go away," Smith said.
It never did. Then one morning in December, Sterling stopped breathing. There was nothing she or paramedics could do to save him. He was just 13-months-old when he died.
"I physically just hurt, everything just hurt and then not knowing why and thinking, 'Was it something that I did or didn't do?'" Smith said. "What should I have done differently for him to be here?"
It wasn't until 8 months after Sterling's death that Tori got her answer. Doctors found that Sterling had Congenital Heart Defects or CHD.
"The heart develops and is beating the first couple of months after conception and most of the defects actually will have occurred at that time," said Dr. Thomas Shula, a Pediatric Cardiologist with OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center.
Shula says CHD symptoms aren't easy for parents to recognize.
"They as babies do not feed as well, tire out, may at certain ages have excessive perspiration," said Schula. "Really the main one is the labored respiration's."
According to the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association, nearly one in 100 newborns are born with CHD. Recently all three Rockford hospitals started scanning oxygen levels of newborns. Nurses do it before the babies leave the hospital to help detect any defects.
Smith is making sure parents get that message. She makes homemade loveys and attaches a card to them that has the symptoms of CHD on it. She does it for all the newborns at Rockford Memorial Hospital, where Sterling was born.
His memory lives on through his mother who is comforting other babies, just like she did for hers while she could.
"The more we know the better chance our children have to survive," Smith adds.
To learn more about Congenital Heart Disease log onto the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association's website.