COEUR d'ALENE - Dozens of pink and blue balloons rose higher and higher into the heavens Sunday above Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Park, each bearing a "message to an angel," an otherwise healthy infant who died suddenly before his or her first birthday.
Families of these children watched as the balloons disappeared into the sky, part of a remembrance ceremony held following the first Run for the Angels, a 5-kilometer walk/run held by the Inland Northwest SIDS Foundation, a new nonprofit dedicated to providing support for families affected by Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and educating the public about it.
"My daughter died in 1989 but everyday it still affects me," said Andrea Berndt, of Spokane Valley. "She never graduated from high school. She'll never marry or have kids."
Berndt said organizations like Inland Northwest SIDS Foundation, and events like Run for the Angels, provide needed support for families affected by SIDS.
"I can look anywhere in this park today and find someone who knows what I'm feeling, who's felt it too and understands," Berndt said.
SIDS is defined as the sudden death of an infant less than 1 year old that cannot be explained after a thorough investigation and autopsy are completed. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is the third leading cause of overall infant mortality in the United States.
Molly Preston of Post Falls, whose infant daughter, Jovi, died in July, said the foundation's support has been a big help to her.
"As bad as it is, it's comforting to now that you're not the only one to go through this," Preston said.
There were 341 registered participants in the 5K event along the Centennial Trail.
Liz Montgomery, founder of the local SIDS foundation, said run organizers were "blown away" by the turnout, especially since their nonprofit was just granted its 501(c)(3) status in June.
It has been 10 years since Montgomery's infant son, Mason, died. She is president of the board of the Inland Northwest SIDS Foundation.
Montgomery's 17-year-old daughter, Holly, also sits on the board, as its youth representative.
"I was 8 years old when Mason passed away. It was really hard for me to understand back then, and well, I'm an only child now," Holly said.
Holly works closely with her mother to inform people about SIDS, what it is and how people can lower their babies' risk, generally through safe sleep practices. The National Institute for Health recommends infants should always be placed on their backs to sleep. Other recommendations can be found by visiting the Inland Northwest SIDS Foundation's website, http://www.inwsids.org
Proceeds from Sunday's run, and a simultaneous silent auction, will be used to pay for HALO brand SleepSacks, wearable blankets designed to keep babies warm while preventing suffocation. The funds will also be used to provide grief support packets for family members.
"The big reason we're here tonight is to remember our children," Montgomery said during the remembrance ceremony following the walk/run.
She said there is strength in numbers, and no one has to go through the loss of a child to SIDS alone.
"I hope you've found peace and comfort in this today," Montgomery said.
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