By Steve Svetovich
Theo and Greg Zayac are Dunmoreans who are truly out to save the world, or at least the tiniest part of it in the form of young infants.
Their ambition is fueled by a cruel tragedy — the death of their healthy three-month-old infant son Jude on July 23, 2014, as a result of S.I.D.S (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
While other parents might be destroyed by such a loss, the grieving young couple instead vowed to make sense out of the tragedy and to make a positive impact in the name of Jude.
When friends set up a Go Fund Me account in the days following Jude’s death, both Theo and Greg knew they did not want to use the money for themselves, but that they wanted to start a foundation in their son’s name. They spent the next six months learning about S.I.D.S and about which hospitals were in the forefront of research. They were saddened to discover that S.I.D.S. is the leading cause of death in children under one year of age, amounting to approximately 4,000 deaths each year.
Known as the silent killer, since victims pass away in their sleep, S.I.D.S. strikes without notice. Not much is known about its causes, although a study at Boston Children’s Hospital in 2010 concluded that there may be a link between brainstem abnormalities and serotonin deficiencies and S.I.D.S.
“More studies like this need to be conducted to develop this theory and to find a way to detect S.I.D.S. before it kills more healthy babies, like our sweet Jude,” Theo says.
Greg and Theo believe that Boston Children’s Hospital is the premiere research center for S.I.D.S., making the biggest breakthroughs to help understand and prevent the syndrome, and they decided to raise fund for that research..
“This became a huge part of our coping process, especially for my husband,” explains Theo. “We found that we could put our energy into raising monies to find the causes of S.I.D.S and help other parents avoid a devastating loss like ours. It was a positive way to focus our energy and emotions It has become our mission.”
After doing the research and establishing the Jude Zayac Foundation, the couple settled on the idea of sponsoring a “Jog for Jude”. This simple idea has grown into an event that draws thousands from the community and far beyond to raise both funds and awareness for SIDS research. This year’s fourth annual event will be held on Sunday, April 22, at Dunmore Community Center, 1414 Monroe Ave., Dunmore.
Although the race is the signature event, the family pursues awareness events and fund-raising all year round, including the Blue and Pink Day held in March.
It is very much a family affair, spearheaded by Theo and Greg, with the wholehearted support of their parents, John and Florence Lawless and Ted and Kim Zayac, all of Dunmore. Even their older son, Gregory, now age 7, became involved from the beginning, as have the latest additions to the Zayac’s family–Matilda, 2, and Gus, 9 months.
Also on board from the start were their siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, and many family friends. For instance, Kevin Hayes is in charge of development; Matt Swartz, finance; Ted Zayac, logistics; Cara McCormick and Florence Lawless, entertainment; Mariclare Hayes and Steve Zayak, awareness; Shamus McCormick, race operations; Linda Speicher and Kim Zayac, volunteers, and Bryan Zayac, recognition.
Their efforts and those of volunteers (370 assisted with the last year’s Jog for Jude), attracted 2,121 participants in 2017, with $108,496 raised. They expect even higher numbers this year.
Jog for Jude features the area’s only 5K race raising awareness and funds for S.I.D.S. research, as well as a 1 Mile Fun Walk. Pricing for participation is age-based, and various other activities including basket raffles and activities for children are featured.
For more information, visit www.runsignup.com/Race/PA/Dunmore/JogforJude.