Would you forget your child? Are you willing to bet their life on it?
Lyn Balfour is a US army reservist who has done two tours of Iraq, she is a disciplined and organized woman and a devoted mother.
But in March 2004, inexplicably, she left her 9-month-old son in the car for seven hours while she went to work.
Lyn still has a complete memory of dropping Bryce off at daycare that morning — due to a cruel trick of the brain that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of babies.
"Somehow maybe you think you’re protected, [it] can’t happen to me because I’m not that bad parent, which is the biggest mistake you can ever make," Lyn told Sunday Night.
"I manage $47 million worth of products in Iraq with every penny counted for in the US military, how can I forget my son?"
Memory expert Dr David Diamond specializes in the area he calls 'forgotten baby syndrome' and says what happened to Lyn could happen to anyone.
"There is a neurological explanation for why people leave children in cars but it has nothing to do with pathology, it’s not about brain damage.
"It’s really about normal brain functioning in which we remember one thing and we forget something else."
Three main factors that contribute — three factors that go hand-in-hand with parenthood; Fatigue, stress and a change in routine.
On the day her son died Lyn was sleep deprived, she had a work emergency causing stress and finally, a change in routine: she had to give husband Jarret a lift to work and he loaded the baby into the car.
Dr Diamond has served as an expert witness in many cases like Lyn Balfour's, including Bendigo mother Jade Poole.
Poole was charged and acquitted of the manslaughter of her daughter Belle in 2012.
Lyn, however, was charged with the second-degree murder of her 9-month-old and faced up to forty years in jail.
"Her husband had placed the diaper bag on the floor in the backseat and her child was in a car seat which was behind the driver’s side facing away from her which was actually not the normal position so she didn’t see the child hear her child throughout the drive," Dr Diamond says.
Lyn dropped Jarret off and received the call about a work emergency.
She went to work and spent the day convinced her child was at daycare despite having never dropped him off.
"If you would have asked me or given me a lie detector test, even today, I would tell you that he was at the day care providers house and that he was okay and that he was fine"
An emergency call recording paints the tragic picture of what happened when Lyn saw her baby still in the car that evening.
"I was hoping that it wasn’t too late so I started screaming for someone to call 911 and I took him out of the car and I began CPR…"
"I prayed, and I prayed to god to take me instead, to please, please not take him and after about another ten minutes another doctor came in and she told me that they couldn’t save him, that he was gone…"
Dr Diamond says helping a jury to understand why women like Lyn could forget their child is a big part of the work he now does.
It happens when the habit-forming part of the brain, the basal-ganglia, overrides the multi-tasking and fact-based part of the brain, the hippocampus and frontal cortex.
He uses the analogy of forgetting to stop for milk on the regular drive home.
"When you get home and you look in the refrigerator and you see you haven’t picked up the milk — your hippocampus is booted it’s activated and it reminds you that you had intended to go to the store
"What happens in forgotten baby syndrome this failure of the hippocampus and frontal cortex to interrupt the basal ganglia and its functioning."
"All of us all of us are vulnerable to forgetting items of great importance including children. Extraordinary and difficult to accept."
Lyn Balfour has a clear message for anyone who thinks her son’s death is about poor parenting.
"I have talked to parents straight to their face and in person telling me that it could never happen to them and I ask them one question, 'Are you willing to bet your child’s life on it? That it would never happen to you… are you willing to do that?"
She now works with Janette Fennell who runs Kids in Cars, a lobby group devoted to the protection of children from one of our deadliest weapons – the family car.
"These are not failures of love, this is a failure of our memory and we should all be working together to do whatever we can to save these babies’ lives," Fennell says of the work they do.
The group is lobbying for legislation to have a baby seat alarm system built in to cars at manufacture stage.
"Somehow all of our cars tell us if we’ve left our headlights on because nobody wants a dead battery but it’s ok to have a dead baby?
Lyn is dedicated to changing the public attitude towards parents who have forgotten their children and saving lives, a promise she made to Bryce.
"Bryce was such a happy, bubbly little baby, he never cried. my mum often says that she thinks he had such a wonderful, special personality because he probably knew that he wasn’t going to be here for very long," she said.
Lyn and Jarrett have had four more children since Bryce died and while Jarrett knows Lyn was responsible he does not blame her.
"I think, for me, knowing that it was an accident… and that she would never intentionally leave him in the car is how I have been able to move along with her and our relationship"