News / Vancouver

Family tragedy: Surrey toddler dies on same day her sister is born

Megan Carbonetto says she's living a nightmare after finding her 14-month-old daughter dead, the shock of which caused her to go into early labour.

Baby Zipporah, right, was born in Surrey on March 3, the same day her one-year-old sister Sarah died of unknown causes.

Courtesy Megan Carbonetto

Baby Zipporah, right, was born in Surrey on March 3, the same day her one-year-old sister Sarah died of unknown causes.

A Surrey mother whose toddler died the same day she gave birth to a new baby says she feels like she’s living a nightmare and can’t wake up.

March 3 started out as a typical Thursday for Megan Carbonetto.

After dropping off her husband Angel Rivera at the SkyTrain station on his way to work, she returned home and brewed a fresh pot of coffee. Around 7 a.m., she went to wake her three daughters— Sian, 7, Abigail, 5, and 14-month-old Sarah— to get ready for school.

That’s when the horror began.

No matter how hard she tried to wake up her youngest, who was tucked between her two sisters in bed, the toddler wouldn’t open her eyes.

“She just looked like she was sleeping, but she wasn’t waking up,” a tearful Carbonetto told Metro. “I screamed bloody murder.”

The next few moments were a blur.

Carbonetto said she remembers her mother-in-law and sister-in-law, who live with her family, running into the room and grabbing Sarah from her.

After calling 911, her sister-in-law then performed CPR on her daughter's lifeless body until paramedics arrived and took over, transporting her to hospital.

Surrey mom Megan Carbonetto with daughter Sarah, who died March 3 of unknown causes.

Courtesy Megan Carbonetto

Surrey mom Megan Carbonetto with daughter Sarah, who died March 3 of unknown causes.

But their efforts were futile.

The coroner later told Carbonetto that Sarah had likely already died sometime during the night. The cause of death was unknown.

“She just looked like she was asleep,” she said again, her voice breaking with emotion. “I still feel like she’s just going to wake up. That it’s just a nightmare and I'm still waiting to wake up from it."

But the nightmare wasn’t over yet.

While talking to RCMP officers the same day, Carbonetto, who was 33 weeks pregnant, said she went into early labour. 

A few days earlier, she said she had started to feel contractions and was given medication to stop the labour, which had worked.

But she said the stress of losing her child that day caused the labour pains to begin again.

“At first, I thought that it was just the pain from losing my child,” she said. “But when I got up to show the RCMP officers where she was sleeping, the contractions just came on like a brick wall.”

Around 9 p.m., Carbonetto gave birth to a baby girl.

Born six weeks premature, the baby, who she named Zipporah, is expected to spend another two weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit, but seems to be doing well.

For Carbonetto, however, the traumatic experience has her grappling with mixed emotions.

“Within a 12-hour period, I have lost a child and gained another,” she said. “I feel so guilty because I feel like right now I should be mourning the loss of my child, but then I feel like I’m being selfish because the baby needs me as well.”

Baby Zipporah was born in Surrey on March 3, the same day her one-year-old sister Sarah died of unknown causes.

Courtesy Megan Carbonetto

Baby Zipporah was born in Surrey on March 3, the same day her one-year-old sister Sarah died of unknown causes.

Although she was able to hold Zipporah for the first time Wednesday, she said she could only cradle her for a few minutes before she was overcome with grief, realizing she would never hold Sarah again.

“It’s not fair for Zipporah now because every year, her birthday is going to be this all over again,” she said. “How can I as a mother let my child feel that guilt as well?”

While she plans Sarah’s funeral, which is taking place Saturday in Surrey, Carbonetto said she is doing everything she can to ensure her older daughters also feel loved, adding that she “can’t imagine what it was like for them waking up next to their sister.”

In the past week, family and friends have rallied around the family to help cover the funeral costs.

A GoFundMe.com campaign launched by her brother William has raised nearly $10,000 within three days. Carbonetto said the funds will also help support her family while husband Angel, who is the breadwinner, takes time off work to grieve.

Although she is still struggling, Carbonetto said she wanted to speak out about her loss to raise awareness about sudden unexplained death in childhood, or SUDC.

Similar to sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, the diagnosis is defined as the death of a child over the age of 12 months that remains unexplained after a thorough investigation.

“I’ve had four kids now and I never knew that a child over the age of one could pass away from SUDC,” she said. “I was completely unaware as a parent that this is something that could happen to a child that can walk and talk and crawl and run.”

Although less common than SIDS, an estimated 202 children in the U.S. between the ages of one and four are believed to have died from sudden unexplained causes in 2014, according to the Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood Foundation.

While knowing there was nothing she could do to save Sarah does bring some peace of mind, Carbonetto said she will always miss her daughter.

“She was so perfect,” she said, adding that her toddler loved to surprise her with kisses. “She never cried. She was just so sweet.”