April 20, 2016

Named in Memory of Alexander Dodson, 5K Run Targets Sudden Death in Childhood


INSPIRATION FOR A RUN AND SOME FAMILY FUN: Alexander Michael Dodson’s parents choose to honor his memory by holding the annual Alexander’s Run, a race and family festival taking place in Trenton on Saturday. The 5K run and walk raises funds to support research into Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC) and programs for Trenton children at Stuart Country Day School.

Alexander Michael Dodson was only 19-months-old when he died in his sleep on December 20, 2008. The curly-haired toddler who loved to dance, eat waffles, and play with his friends was a victim of Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC), which claims the lives of healthy children over the age of 12 months.

Like anyone who loses a child to SUDC, Alexander’s parents Michelle Emerson and Dan Dodson were blindsided by his sudden passing. “We were just sort of numb,” recalled Ms. Emerson, who lives in Trenton’s Mill Hill neighborhood with her husband and son Daniel, who was born four years ago. “We didn’t know what to do.”

Neighbors in Mill Hill dedicated the neighborhood playground to Alexander, placing a plaque with his picture on the gate. When friends approached the couple about making a donation in Alexander’s name, they began looking into the possibility. The Alexander Michael Dodson Memorial Scholarship Fund was started with the encouragement and financial support of those friends, and the assistance of the Princeton Area Community Foundation.

In October 2010, the fund sponsored the first Alexander’s Run, a 5K and family festival that donates to the Stuart Country Day School’s STARS Program and provides money for research, advocacy, and support services to families affected by SUDC. This year’s run, the fifth, takes place on Saturday, April 23 starting at 9 a.m. in Mill Hill Park. The course takes runners and walkers through historic Trenton, tracing Washington and Sullivan’s routes into the Battle of Trenton and passing by the Old Barracks.

But the race is only one part of the day. A full roster of activities is planned for an after-race celebration back at Mill Hill Park. “It’s not just the run,” said Ms. Emerson. “It’s a family festival with a lot to do, from face-painting to crafting, Zumba for kids, and an obstacle course. We do the run to get people here, but for me it’s more about the family day part. We want everyone to come out and enjoy the day.”

Most parents are aware of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “the sudden death of an infant less than 1 year of age that cannot be explained after a thorough investigation is conducted, including a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the clinical history.” SUDC, which affects older children, is less known.

The SUDC Foundation serves as a resource for information, support, and advocacy, promoting awareness and helping families affected by the tragedy. Through events like Alexander’s Run, it also raises funds for research.

“When we first joined the foundation, there was a research program that has now moved to a hospital in Boston,” Ms. Emerson says. “They have a wonderful medical advisory
team. They’re trying to find what the link is — the mysterious cause of this thing that makes children die in their sleep.”

Running the fund in memory of Alexander gives his parents the opportunity to talk about him. “I’m very lucky in that I can talk about him whenever I want. It’s not a way to keep him alive, but a way for me to talk about him and tell people this is something you can’t prevent. We had no idea about it. I don’t want to scare people with small kids, but people should be aware.”

While he never met his brother, four-year-old Daniel talks about him all the time. “He’s very aware of Alexander,” says Ms. Emerson. “It’s ‘my brother this’ and ‘my brother that.’ He doesn’t quite understand the concept of death, but he understands that his brother’s not here. Conceptually, he follows that. But he’s only four. I can talk to him about Alexander. It’s so wonderful that he feels so comfortable talking about him.”

Money raised from the first four Alexander’s Runs provided donations to the Stuart school’s STARS program and helped
almost 70 students attend the program, a four-week camp focused on math, science, and humanities that is open only to Trenton residents. The program is designed to strengthen Stuart’s ties with the community through service to children. The fund has also supported the Trenton City Museum’s Summer Art and Theatre Camp and helped provide scholarships for students to attend the program.

“We wanted to find programs that benefit Trenton kids with a science and art component,” says Ms. Emerson. “So we continue to work with the Princeton Area Community Foundation. They know what my interests are. We’re always looking for new programs.”

To register online for the run until April 22, visit alexandersrun.org/Registration.php. The cost is $30. Day-of-race registration begins at 7:30 a.m. (cash or check only). There is no charge for Zumba Kids but pre-registration is requested.