Holmdel resident Dr. Denise Wunderler, founder and president of 501(c)3 nonprofit Team Vienna 4 SUDC Awareness Inc., is no stranger to loss. On Nov. 12, 2017, she lost her daughter, Vienna, who was a few months shy of her third birthday, to Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC).
“My healthy daughter fell asleep while watching TV and tragically never woke up,” Wunderler said. “Despite both my husband and I being physicians, we never heard of SUDC until it happened to us. This is not [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome]. SUDC is a category of death in children ages 1 to18 years old, which remains unexplained after a thorough investigation, including an autopsy.” (Vienna and her parents are enrolled in a research study, and even Vienna’s genetic studies did not reveal a cause.) “SUDC is one of the most under-recognized medical tragedies of our time, and shockingly is scarcely known in the medical community.”
Most recently, Wunderler lost her sister, Carol Wunderler Strohe, on Nov. 30, 2019 at age 54 after a battle against stage 4 urothelial carcinoma.
“Carol fought hard for close to three years and persevered, despite all odds,” Wunderler said. “Even in her final days, she never gave up. During her last week on Earth, strength permitting, she would still go for walks and do leg lifts while sitting in her chair.”
In spring 2019, Carol traveled from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Ocean Grove to spend a “magical” weekend at Mary’s Place by the Sea. The nonprofit facility is a retreat haven for women with cancer to help them heal in mind, body and soul.
“Carol was originally scheduled to visit Mary’s Place in 2020, however she would have never made it,” Wunderler said. “When I met her for dinner that Saturday evening, she couldn’t express enough praise about the people, the services, the house, the food, the conversation, everything. She had an instant bond with the women she met. I was so impressed with everything she shared, and I am extremely thankful she was able to undergo this incredible experience.”
In spite of her loss and with a focus on hope, Wunderler continues her crusade to raise awareness. She and her Team Vienna for SUDC Awareness will be participating in Mary’s Place by the Sea’s ninth annual Walk-A-Thon/2nd annual 5K in memory of Vienna Carly Savino and Carol Wunderler Strohe. The event will take place on Saturday, May 16* from 9 am to 3 pm at Ocean Avenue and Ocean Pathway in Ocean Grove.
“Coincidentally, May 16 is also our third annual Vienna’s Day of International SUDC Awareness to increase global awareness,” Wunderler said. “During our inaugural Vienna’s Day in 2018, my determined sister, Carol, walked the entire 5K in Sea Bright, in the cold, wind and rain, and crossed the finish line with our family and older sister, Diane Wunderler Hubka, in 1 1/2 hours, while battling weakness and being unable to feel her feet [due to side effects of her cancer treatment].”
On May 16, 2019, the second annual anniversary, Team Vienna was represented on seven continents and more than 70 locations worldwide. Wunderler hopes that representation grows even more this year so others will learn of Vienna’s story and SUDC, and also learn about Mary’s Place and the extraordinary respite it offers.
“My sister was a huge supporter of Team Vienna and attended many events,” She said. “Prior to her death, she and her family decided in lieu of flowers at her funeral, they would request donations to Team Vienna. My family was so touched. In life and in death, my sister is an incredibly giving, caring and inspirational human being.”
*Due to the current social distancing, the walk may be postponed. For more information about Team Vienna and SUDC, visit TeamViennaSUDC.org.