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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Tragedy leads mother to educate other mothers on preventing SIDS 

by Kaye Hult

Liz Montgomery finds power in sharing her story.

Out of her passion for education, children and helping others, Liz Montgomery organized the nonprofit Inland Northwest SIDS Foundation in Coeur d’Alene in 2012. Her son, Mason Rae, died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in 2003.

Involved with the Seattle-based SIDS Foundation of Washington in Spokane, she felt called to continue its mission, when it lost funding and canceled the 20-year-old Fallen Leaf Run.  She started the foundation in Coeur d’Alene.

Liz said Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) is now the preferred phrase over SIDS, with SIDS as a subcategory.

When an infant dies from unknown reasons, there is an autopsy and a review of the baby’s health history.

SIDS is specific.  Eighty to 90 percent of SIDS deaths occur in unsafe sleeping situations. 

Mason Rae had been napping on a couch that was too soft.  Covered with a heavy blanket, he was too hot.  Liz had no idea that situation was unsafe.

The INW SIDS Foundation’s focus is education on safe sleep habits.  They recommend no pillows in a crib, no bed sharing, no crib bumpers, no sleeping on a couch and making sure an infant sleeps on her or his back.

“Education is important for new parents,” Liz said.  “They can’t keep their baby safe if they don’t know how to do it.”

The foundation seeks to certify birthing hospitals in Idaho in safe infant sleep practices.  Certification requires that staff be trained in safe sleep practices, the hospital have a safe sleep policy and educate new parents before they are discharged.  Hospitals can adopt more rigorous guidelines for higher levels of certification.

A certified safe sleep leader hospital also replaces receiving blankets in the nursery and NICU with wearable blankets to model no loose bedding in cribs.  They agree to an annual evaluation.

A certified safe sleep champion does more.  It affiliates with or becomes a local Cribs for Kids® partner, and provides safe sleep alternatives to at-risk parents.  It also does community and media outreach on safe sleep.  Cribs for Kids does the certification. 

“Many medical providers are not up to date on safe sleep recommendations,” Liz said.

In addition to education, the foundation offers grief support to those who experience a SUID/SIDS loss.  It is pregnancy-loss and infancy specific. A peer support group meets monthly.

The foundation does a  national mailing of support packets with information on children, grief and all types of losses.

“Previously, there was no education or family support in Idaho,” said Liz. “Montana and Oregon also have no programs.”

The foundation, which grows every year, holds three events. 

• A Candlelighting Ceremony for anyone who has lost a child of any age is at 4 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 13, at the Share Hope Memorial Garden at 8th and Gilbert.  

• On Mother’s Day, women gather at Elk Point for a light lunch, crafts and an opportunity to mingle with others who have had a similar loss.  Liz said some years are hard, and holidays are hard.

• The Run for the Angels on the first Sunday in October expected 600 this year, but about 800 came.  More than 100 volunteers helped.

Because of the INW SIDS Foundation and Idaho Rep. Luke Malek, Idaho has taken a stance on SUID/SIDS.  Gov. Butch Otter proclaimed October Safe Infant Sleep Awareness Month in Idaho.

It was an opportunity to raise awareness of these deaths.

As a child growing up in a close family in St. Maries, Liz wanted to be a teacher or librarian.  Her parents exposed her to culture and a variety of people.

“I use my family values and life experiences with people I meet,” she said. “Those make us who we are with the gifts we have.”

After high school, she earned an associate degree at North Idaho College and then a bachelor’s degree in education in 2000 at the University of Idaho.

Liz began teaching 14 students in five grades in Avery, Idaho.  She and her husband, a firefighter, had a daughter, Holly.

Mason Rae was born Nov. 4, 2002.  He died on April 23, 2003.

Liz became lead teacher at HeadStart on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation in Plummer.

After a year, she began doing psychosocial rehabilitation at Valley Vista in St. Maries, doing home visits with adults and children with mental illness.

Having had a “wonderful childhood,” she said, “I didn’t know about poverty or that not everyone was like my family.  Schizophrenia is real!  Poverty is real! Both are in my community!”

Liz worked seven years with Valley Vista, and then was homeless outreach coordinator at the YWCA in Spokane. 

After serving two years on the Spokane Homeless Coalition, she became a life-skills coordinator for mentally disabled people at Trinity Group Homes in Coeur d’Alene.  Liz was on the Region 1 Homeless Coalition Board. 

“I had no idea about the nonprofit world, or the needs and gaps they fill,” she said.  “Nor did I understand the struggles people have.”

After Trinity, Liz worked for four years with children at Mountain States Early HeadStart and in Rathdrum Center. 

Along with her work with the INW SIDS Foundation, Liz works at United Way of Kootenai County as program coordinator for Ready! for Kindergarten.  It serves 150 families with children from birth to 5 years old in Rathdrum, Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene school districts.

She offers classes to teach parents to play with a purpose, using puzzles, books, counting beads and other age-appropriate learning tools.

“Parents are their children’s first teachers.  We give parents tools so they can be confident in teaching their children,” Liz said.

“If children enter second grade with poor reading skills, they will continue at a lower reading level throughout school,” she said.

Liz credits her Catholic upbringing for giving her passion to help others.

“Things happen in our lives that give us pause, such as Mason’s death,” she said. “We don’t know why things happen.  Now I realize that my telling others his story is a gift that helps them.”

She is also on the Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network to Reduce Infant Death (COIIN) Team for Idaho.

“I do what I do because I am blessed,” she said.

“When we do what we’re supposed to be doing, we are blessed,” she said.

For information, call 208-557-4371 or info@inwsids.org.



Copyright © December 2015 - The Fig Tree