Facebook Twitter



Eighty-seven trees stand in a new city park at the corner of 11th Avenue and Virginia Street, testimony to the brief lives of 87 Utah children who died from sudden infant death syndrome this past year.

The young trees that will one day shade other children at play are a fitting memorial to the lost babies, Elder John K. Carmack, of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told the families and friends who attended Saturday's planting ceremony. It's the third such event the Utah Chapter of the National SIDS Foundation has sponsored.The money for the 87 trees was donated by families and other private sponsors. City crews set the trees in place and families helped secure the dirt around them.

Utah Chapter President Jeff Simmonds planted a tree two years ago in a different park on behalf of his own child, Matthew Bradley Simmonds, who died when he was 3 1/2 months old, a victim of the mysterious syndrome that claims 6,000 to 7,000 babies each year nationwide.

Simmonds said he's returned to the park and seen the tree he planted a couple of times.

"It's grown a foot. The branches are thick and strong. It's a representation of my son, who I don't have with me here today. I love my son. I love my Matthew and I miss him dearly. If we could eliminate this syndrome I would have a 3-year-old behind me, running around doing what 3-year-olds do."

In addition to comforting and supporting parents who have lost babies to SIDS, he said, the foundation works to educate the public and professionals and to raise money for research. While many theories have been propounded for what might cause SIDS, scientists are still largely baffled.

They do have some facts, though, Simmonds said. They know that SIDS is not caused by child abuse or an immunization; it is not contagious and not hereditary. Most of its victims have appeared to be healthy before death.

Elder Carmack said the most important thing for parents to remember is that their baby's death is not their fault.

"It's hard when this occurs to you not to feel that somehow you were responsible, that you should have done something to prevent it. Of course these feelings are natural, but they are unjustified."

Psychologist Richard Schneiman, who donates his time to run a support group for parents of SIDS babies, said the tree planting is a healthy exercise for the parents.

"To lose a child in a way where you have no warning, where you have no control, leaves people with a sense of helplessness. To be able to at least plant a tree is something substantive and symbolic. . . . That's very important to the survivors of SIDS because their loss has been so painful."