DUNMORE, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — An estimated 3,500 babies die each year in the U.S from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. That includes 61 babies in Pennsylvania in 2013 which is the most recent year of data collected. Despite a significant decline in the past few decades, SIDS remains the leading killer of babies between one month and one-year-old.

Part of what makes SIDS so terrifying is it kills babies who otherwise appear perfectly healthy. A Dunmore couple who was touched by this tragedy sat down with Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller to share their story.

“He just stopped breathing,” said Theo Zayac, It’s a medical mystery that took the life of three-month-old Jude Zayac while at daycare in August 2014. “He was sleeping at the time. There was no explanation. He was in a Pack ‘N Play on his back,” she said.

The parents of three other children including two since Jude’s passing, Theo and Greg Zayac say they follow the ABC’s of infant safe sleep. “Alone on their back in their crib every time,” said Mrs. Zayac. “Safe Sleep” is part of the reason the number of SIDS deaths has declined since the 1990’s.

The correct sleep position for infants doesn’t always prevent the SIDS tragedy. “Parents can be doing all the right stuff and we still have related deaths with no explanation,” said Commonwealth Health Pediatrician Kathy Walsh, MD. 

Dr. Walsh stresses to parents of newborns the importance of infant safe sleep but reducing the risk of SIDS doesn’t stop there. She said, “When I take a family history I also ask if there has been any primary family members that have suffered a crib death or a SIDS case.”

Dr. Walsh recommends families with that troubling history put their infant children on sleep apnea monitors. That’s what the Zayacs have done ever since their personal tragedy. Taking precautions isn’t all they’ve done. Mr. Zayac said, “We want to remember Jude. We want to help other babies.”

The Zayacs formed the Jude Zayac Foundation which holds an annual fundraising run each spring called “Jog For Jude“. To date, it’s generated about a quarter-million dollars. While some of that money benefits babies and children in their community, most of it goes to Boston Children’s Hospital which is one of America’s leading SIDS research facilities. 

The Zayacs hope that research will help spare families the suffering they experienced. “Still today we don’t know why Jude passed away and we’re going to work until we find out why,” said Mrs. Zayac.

Preliminary research suggests doctors may be able to develop a hormone test and screening process that indicates which newborns are susceptible to SIDS.