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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

May 16, 2019

A Toddler’s Legacy Touches the Lives of Others

By Deirdre Flanagan Ward

Vienna Wunderler SUDC 4

“Our healthy daughter was 2 years, 9 months and 3 weeks old when she died suddenly and unexpectedly in her sleep from SUDC (categorized as Sudden Unexplained Death In Childhood) on Nov. 12, 2017. Jan. 19, 2019 would have been her fourth birthday.”

Holmdel resident Dr. Denise Wunderler said no words can describe the loss of little Vienna who was a “fun, free-spirited, silly, beautiful girl who loved to pretend to read, sing, dance, explore various fashion choices, help her friends at school and play with her family. She always had a smile to share with a loving, caring heart. She was a ray of sunshine to all those fortunate to have met her.”

Vienna Wunderler SUDC

Wunderler and husband Dr. Michael Savino speak publicly about their devastating loss along with their hope of raising awareness and research funding for SUDC, which is mostly unknown in the medical community.

“We are heartbroken but surviving,” she said. “Every day is very difficult for all of us to go on without our Vienna home with us.”

Although Vienna’s life was cut short, in that precious little time of “being Vienna,” she left an indelible mark on those who were fortunate to know her.

Music producer and song writer, Ray Andersen (known as mr. RAY) performed frequently for Vienna’s preschool class and soon became her favorite musician. A few months after her death, he wrote a tribute song, with words written by Wunderler, capturing her joyful spirit.

Vienna Wunderler SUDC 3

“It moved me to tears when I received the text from Denise with words she put together in memory of her daughter, Vienna,” Andersen said. “I knew I wanted to write a melody for Vienna, but it couldn’t be something solemn because she was/is the opposite of solemn. She was always bopping to the music. She was so happy. I’m lucky to have touched her little life through music. Anyone that met her was lucky for that.”

Another friend recalled how Vienna seamlessly helped her daughter, who spoke little English, transition on the first day of school.

Vienna Wunderler SUDC 8

“One memory in particular is of my daughter Ella’s first day at school,” Tamar said. “I stayed with her in class until Miss Sarah kicked me out. Then I just sat in my car, waiting and worrying because Ella hardly knew the teachers or the language, and I was sure I was going to get a call asking me to pick up my crying daughter. Time passed, and no one called. It turns out Ella and Vienna shared a passion for setting up the dinner table, which they were doing for a good part of that hour. I remember feeling so relieved to see that Ella was not alone or sad and felt grateful to that pretty, blonde 2-year-old who was keeping her company.”

By just “being Vienna” – or “Peepa” as Wunderler lovingly calls her – the youngest with a big sister and brother, she showed kindness and happiness in all she did.

Vienna Wunderler SUDC7

“She loved to help her teachers and friends,” Wunderler said. “Vienna would help her teachers take off other students’ coats and direct where to place the coat in the correct cubby.”

Miss Nina, one of her teachers, said, “At this age, children are beginning to understand and follow rules, to recognize and manage emotions, and to handle books and toys with care. Vienna, however, had these mastered.”

Fashion was another thing Vienna embraced with drive.

Vienna Wunderler SUDC 2

“She would change her outfit three or four times a day – clothes all over the place,” Wunderler laughed. “She loved putting different pieces of clothing together, wearing her big sister’s shoes, trying on headbands (sometimes many at one time) with bows in her hair which she placed there herself!”

Vienna showed no fear of strange food either. She actually enjoyed it. “She loved avocado, mango and hummus.” Wunderler said. “One day she actually ate garlic hummus with a spoon. Not usual for a 2-year-old!”

Independence was another strength she mastered at a young age, learning to change her diaper by age 2 ½.

“Within her last 6 months, she was changing her own diaper and starting to use the potty,” Wunderler said. “She loved washing her hands, lathering up for minutes at a time. And for such a young age, her speech was advancing significantly.”

Bettina Mae Samson, another adoring teacher and fan of Vienna wrote a note which captures the true essence of Vienna:

“Dear Vienna,

It has been an honor to meet you. I still remember my first day. You walked in with your brother and sister, and the three of you were such a happy bunch.

When we met, I thought about how pretty and unique your name was, how I never heard any girl with that name before and how suiting it was to who you were as a person. You had such a great energy to yourself from the get-go. You were so friendly to all of your classmates and so helpful with your teachers. You got along with anyone and everyone. You brought so much life to the Toddler Room, and I will always remember you.

Thank you for being in my life, sweet Vienna! Thank you very much.

With love,
Bettina”

Wunderler believes through these memories and shared moments, Vienna’s spirit will continue to touch lives. And through the nonprofit Team Vienna 4 SUDC Awareness, Inc., Vienna’s family hopes to raise awareness and research support for SUDC so these unexplained deaths will find causes and preventions and ultimately save future children’s lives.

To learn more about Vienna and SUDC, visit TeamViennaSUDC.org.