Published on July 11, 2016

The Elizabeth Grace Foundation and the Halo 5K

Who we are, what we do, and why we do it

By Jenny Atzen, Mother and Certified Nurse Midwife 

Sleep SackBefore I get started, I would like to take an opportunity to thank Genesis and WQAD for helping me to promote my project and event. If you have had a baby in the last 2-3 years at a Genesis BirthCenter, you may be familiar with the Elizabeth Grace Sleep Sack Project. But for those of you who are not, here is a little bit about it.

In 2002, my second daughter, Elizabeth Grace, died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SIDS. She was at day care sleeping in an unsafe sleeping environment. I am sure I don’t need to tell you how our world was turned upside down by her death.

At the time, I had a 3-year-old daughter, Olivia. My husband and I had been married for six years. I was working as a school nurse and also part-time in the BirthCenter at Genesis Medical Center, East Rusholme Street. I had “done everything right”; but I could not understand why this had happened to us.

Facts about SIDS

  • Most common cause of death in otherwise healthy infants 1-month to 12-months of age
  • Occurs most often during winter months
  • More common in boys than girls
  • Each year there are approximately 3,500 babies that die suddenly and unexpectedly
  • There is no cause or cure for SIDS, but risk factors can be eliminated

Risk factors and how to reduce them

  • Eliminate unsafe sleeping environment, this includes co-sleeping, sleeping on couches, recliners, adult beds, and using extra blankets and pillows in the sleep environment. Babies only need a sleeper (or sleep sack) and a fitted sheet on a firm mattress in their own sleeping area
  • Don’t smoke while pregnant, and don’t allow anyone to smoke around you or your baby
  • Don’t allow your baby to get over heated. Babies don’t need extra clothes or blankets; they are comfortable in the same clothing we are comfortable in
  • Don’t allow your baby to sleep on its stomach. Babies who sleep on their stomach are up to 21 times more likely to die of SIDS. Save tummy time for when baby is awake
  • Get good and regular prenatal care to reduce the risk of preterm birth. Babies who are born preterm are at higher risk for SIDS

Beginning to heal

Very shortly after her death, I was contacted by a woman from a local SIDS support group and attended my first meeting. I knew from that moment part of my grief journey would be getting involved and helping other people.

I became involved in a local event that was a fundraiser for the Iowa SIDS Foundation. I spent the next 11 years helping to organize this event and raising money for this foundation. I also served on their board of directors and as president of the board for 6 of those 11 years.

Most of my volunteer time consisted of organizing our local fundraiser and speaking to groups of nurses, daycare providers, and parents. Though this time was a very important part of my journey in healing, I often felt that there was more I could be doing. I wanted to be able to make a difference locally and feel like I was making an impact.

A shift to sleep sacks

In early 2014, Genesis began using sleep sacks instead of blankets in its Davenport BirthCenter. One of the largest risk factors for SIDS is a baby sleeping in an unsafe sleep environment. Part of this includes using blankets and other extra bedding in the crib. By introducing the use of sleep sacks to parents while in the hospital, it opens an opportunity to talk to them about safe sleep and reducing the risk of SIDS.

During an interview with local media promoting the sleep sacks and talking about my experience with SIDS and my local volunteer work, a reporter said to me, “Wouldn’t it be great if the babies could go home with their very own sleep sack?”

In that moment, I had my inspiration, and this is where the Elizabeth Grace Foundation and the Halo 5K were born. The initial donation to the project was courtesy of an employee grant that my sister applied for through John Deere. The task, following that, was to come up with an idea for fundraising to keep the project going.

Running forward

I have been a runner for the last nine years, and have always loved running local 5ks and 10ks, especially ones that are raising money for a good cause. So for me, coming up with how to raise the money was easy. I was already coordinating a local walk for charity, so I just piggy-backed this event onto it. The inaugural year of the Halo 5K was 2014. To date, we have raised more than $10,000 for the sleep sack project.

We have been lucky enough to have donations from the community to keep this project going since the beginning of 2015. I am hoping this will continue.

To give you an idea of costs: the Genesis BirthCenter in Davenport has about 2,000 births per year, and each sleep sack costs about $10 each; this equals an annual cost of about $20,000. So, you can see that the Halo 5K can only support a small portion of this project. Therefore, we are very thankful for our community donations that have come in.

With that being said, the Halo 5K is still a very important part of keeping the sleep sack project going.

About the race

This year, the Halo 5K is Saturday, Aug. 13 at 8 a.m. at Veterans Memorial Park in Bettendorf. The event is open to runners and walkers. We also have a kids race following the 5K.

Start and finish line is at the park, running along the bike path and surrounding streets. It is a mostly flat course with a couple small, challenging hills. Early registration is $35 and is open until Aug. 1. You can still register after Aug. 1, but the price goes up to $40, and you cannot be guaranteed a t-shirt.

Register right now for the Halo 5K.

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Questions? Send Jenny an email.

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