Bereaved father, Microsoft data scientists crunch numbers to combat infant deaths

Spurred by a colleague’s family tragedy, a Microsoft team deployed analysis and data visualization tools and found promising leads in combating Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Seattle Children’s Hospital is partnering with Microsoft to further the research.

John Kahan has a poignant photo in his office at Microsoft, where he oversees customer data and analytics. The image shows Kahan, his wife and three daughters celebrating the birth of a boy, his reddish-blond hair hidden by a hat.

A few hours after the photo was taken, Kahan received a phone call he still has trouble recounting without choking up: his baby son, Aaron, had stopped breathing. A few days later he died with no explanation, a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Last year, with the 13th anniversary of Aaron’s death approaching, Kahan resolved to honor what would have been his only son’s bar mitzvah by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money and awareness for SIDS research.

When he returned from the climb, his team had a surprise for him — they’d been crunching numbers on infant deaths in the U.S. and using data-analysis algorithms to try to find new ways to reduce the number of babies lost to SIDS each year. To date, the data scientists have put in about 500 hours of their own time. Microsoft contributed free cloud hosting and software tools for their work.

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Now, deploying analysis and data-visualization tools that can identify trends, the team has found promising leads in combating SIDS. The technology, normally used to generate Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s daily performance metrics dashboard or tell the Windows team how to best serve customers, in this case helped uncover various correlations; for example, lining up early prenatal care with a lower rate of deaths. The work also provides more information on such known SIDS risk factors as maternal tobacco…

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