June 4, 2003 -- Just a week before Christmas in 2001, Tracy Fields dropped her infant daughter off at the babysitter's house and went to work. It was like any other day … until the phone rang. Her baby girl had stopped breathing and was rushed to the hospital.
Grace Fields, who was just three months old, died later that day at the hospital.
At first, the 32-year-old Florida nurse and her family believed it to be a case of sudden infant death syndrome. But the Polk County medical examiner ruled that Grace died from intoxication by diphenhydramine, the generic name for an antihistamine and sedative used in cough suppressants and sleeping aids. The baby had overdosed on cough syrup.
A Tragic Accident
While police were questioning the Fields family, the baby's mother decided it was time to question the babysitter.
At first, Tracy Fields said she wasn't getting any answers from Paula Burcham, the 53-year-old former operator of the Lakeland, Fla., home day care, and a longtime babysitter for the Fields family.
It took months for Burcham to tell the full story. When she finally admitted to giving the child cough syrup in her milk, she and her lawyer said the baby's death was a very tragic accident. Burcham said she didn't tell police that she had given the baby medication because she was too upset. "I didn't handle any of that good that day," Burcham said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.
Burcham says she knew that the cough syrup was not meant for infants, but she only gave her a small amount and did not think it would kill her. "It looked like just a little bit," Burcham said. "I've done it for 17 years."
Burcham pleaded no contest to a charge of manslaughter in May.
When Burcham is sentenced on August 15, she faces up to 8 years in prison.
Fields said she wants to see Burcham sentenced to the maximum. She believes that her baby's life may have been saved if Burcham had told police that she had given the baby cough medicine.
Burcham says she regrets her actions, but she claims she never knew infants should not be given cough medicine, even though there is a warning against it on the bottle.She says that she has tried to apologize to the Fields family, but she says she understands why they haven't been able to forgive her.
"I sent her a card and she sent it back," Burcham said. "I just feel like I don't deserve to apologize to Tracy — to hurt her anymore."
Burcham had been providing day care for children in her community for 17 years before the death of Grace Fields. She baby-sat the Fields' three other children.
Mom Says Babysitter Used Medicine as Sedative
Fields says she believes Burcham is only sorry because she doesn't want to go to jail.
She says Grace didn't have a cold when she dropped her off at Burcham's home. Fields says she would have noticed if her daughter were sick, given her experience as a nurse who specializes in treating young children with lung problems in an ICU.
"I believe she was using medication to sedate kids for years. Grace was not sick that morning," Fields said.
Fields says the loss of her daughter has been extremely difficult to deal with, especially since her job entails working with babies who are being treated in the hospital.She says her co-workers have helped her deal with the pain, but her marriage could not survive the tragedy. Fields and her husband were divorced after Grace's death.
The nurse says she plans to spread the word about the danger of using over-the-counter cold medications for children. She wants bigger and more strongly worded warning labels on such medications.