When you put your healthy 13 month old son into a crib for a nap on a Sunday afternoon, you do so with expectations. Expectations that in a few hours he will get up to play or perhaps to enjoy dinner. There are expectations that he will learn to walk and talk. He will go to pre-school and elementary school. He will have a fall in love with someone in high school. He will go to college and get married. Someday, his child will be put down for a nap, perhaps in the same crib.
You never expect him to die unexpectedly in his sleep.
On May 20, 2001, Brendan, the son of Chris and Michele Mazzio, died from Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC), a little over one month after his first birthday. Chris, a fitness professional, discovered he was not breathing in his crib and immediately began CPR. Despite the efforts of paramedics and emergency room personnel, Brendan was gone before evening. The hopes and dreams Chris and Michele had for a lifetime enjoying their precious child were devastated in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
A coroner’s report offered no explanation or reason for his death. Eleven years later, the Mazzio’s have no idea what happened that horrible day. Their vibrant and happy little boy had not displayed any symptoms whatsoever and his body left no clues. The Mazzio’s have learned that thousands of families each year suffer from the sudden loss of a child over the age of one, including some families whose teenage children fall victim to SUDC syndrome while taking a nap.
At the time of Brendan’s passing, Chris and Michele had been married six years. Chris had launched his fitness business, Body 1 Wellness, and had just become certified as a professional trainer. Michele was a successful executive in human resources, an avid marathoner, and was finishing her graduate degree from Widener University. They survived their deeply personal tragedy with the love and compassion of both friends and family. However, they know that not every couple who suffers with the loss of a child will enjoy such emotional support. The couple has become involved in the SUDC community and offers their compassion to any other couple who experiences such profound pain.
Chris and Michele tried once more to build a family. In October 2001, Michele became pregnant with their second child. Grief would visit the couple once again. They were told in Michele’s second trimester that the child’s cerebral cortex, which regulates breathing, never developed – he was diagnosed with Trisomy 13. After 39 hours of labor, Michele and Chris watched their newborn pass the moment the umbilical cord was cut in February, 2002.
After the outpouring of sympathy from friends and family for Brendan’s passing subsided a month later, Chris and Michele were left with many unanswered questions and deep personal pain. Did this really happen? Isn’t he in the next room sleeping? Can’t we go get him and take him outside to play?
Chris compliments Michele on her ability to succeed at work and put her intense pain aside. That wasn’t as easy for him. Chris stated he struggled for two years getting new clients for his business. He just couldn’t ever get into a selling mode.
The couple participated in a grief-related organization in Montgomery County, PA, but discovered many of the other people who attended didn’t want to let go of their grief. They found it difficult to heal as well-intentioned neighbors in their town home community would ask them everyday how they were doing. There was such a pressing need for putting their grief behind them that they moved to another community where the death of their child wouldn’t the first thing neighbors talked to them about.
The Mazzio’s wanted to let go and move on. The family received counseling and Chris also healed by building deeper relationships with friends and family. The couple encouraged and supported one another through their difficult pain. Chris also cited the importance of their involvement in the church they attended.
Today, the couple has been able to heal their pain and focus all of their love and affection on their two children. Chris is started an organization that has benefited SUDC and will also be organizing an event to help fight childhood obesity.
The deep affection they had for Brendan is still present in the home. The couple hung his pictures around their home within four days of his passing. They want to keep his memory alive to they can enjoy their precious firstborn for their lifetime.
The desire Chris and Michele had to love children could not be denied. In 2005, they adopted their daughter, who is now 8, and in April 2009 they adopted their son, who is now 4. Both of the children were adopted from China.