Couple to dedicate park in memory of son who died of SIDS

Couple to dedicate park in memory of son who died of SIDS

Jason cohen son

Jason and Natalie Cohen sat down at a Newtown Township meeting two months after the couple discovered their infant son had died in his sleep.

“They looked like little tiny ghosts,” said Kathy Pawlenko, parks and recreation director in the Bucks County Township. “They were grief-stricken and in shock. Yet they still came forward.”

The Cohens had a plan to memorialize their son and raise awareness about the ailment that killed him. So, five years ago, the couple began a mission in the midst of their grief.

They wanted to raise money for Noah’s Playground, a crayon-colored oasis in the middle of grassy fields off Durham Road. Next month, that project is scheduled to open during a ceremony at the township’s Veterans Park.

The $240,000 playground is made with rubberized surfaces and a springy foundation that makes it accessible to youngsters who are disabled. The playground also includes activity panels for children who are sight- and sensory-deprived.

“It’s bittersweet,” Natalie Cohen said Tuesday as she watched her three daughters run around the playground for the first time.

The unveiling will mark another turning point in the life of a couple whose son, Noah Jacob, died on May 16, 2010, of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) eight weeks after he was born at Doylestown Hospital.

About 3,500 infants died of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death in 2013, of which 1,500 died of SIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The syndrome, the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy baby, is the leading cause of death in infants less than a year old. SIDS usually strikes babies between one and four months of age.

The loss battered a family that also included the Cohens’ then-nearly 3-year-old daughter, Lily.

The family found few resources for parents who suffer such a specific kind of loss. But the Cohens were determined that a tragedy that has caused divorce for others would not fracture them.

So they turned to professional counseling, clergy, the support of relatives and friends, and long walks of reflection at the Jersey Shore.

And Lily spurred them on.

“She was our light,” said Jason Cohen, 40, a marketing director, at the family’s Newtown Township home. “She kept us strong as a couple.”

“It would be so easy not to want to get out of bed,” said Natalie Cohen, 38. “But we needed to show her that life could go on.”

So many people wanted to donate in Noah’s memory that the family opened the Noah Jacob Cohen Memorial Fund at the Philadelphia Foundation. They then began the task of figuring out which charities would benefit.

The idea of a playground came up while Natalie Cohen was having coffee with a friend.

“Wouldn’t that be cool?” thought Cohen, an occupational therapist for special-needs students.

Soon after, the couple found out that the township had wanted a playground at Veterans Park. But budgetary concerns stymied the idea.

This was their chance, the Cohens thought, to do something for the community that was helping them to find their way after Noah’s death.

Under the guidance of township officials, the Cohens and their community began holding fund-raisers. There were flea markets, and school, Little League, and synagogue events. Lily sold lemonade.

In that time, the couple welcomed two more daughters, Mollie, now 4, and Julia, 2. Lily is now 8.

But, by 2014, the fund had only 52,000 for a playground that would cost more than four times as much. Then, the township’s Park and Recreation Board discovered that the playground project was eligible for a county grant because it qualified as an open-space project.

The township applied and was awarded an $180,000 grant to add to the $55,000 raised by the Noah fund.

The Cohens and township officials soon began working with the firm Little Tikes to design a playground that would be colorful and accessible. Construction started in last September and is nearly finished. It is scheduled to open during ceremonies on Nov. 14.

Noah’s Playground will be one of three public playgrounds in the township, two of which include options for disabled children.

The Cohens said they hope the playground will help fuel discussion and awareness about SIDS. They are in the beginning stages of starting a support group for parents. The Noah fund is to continue to raise money for research.

In the coming months, trees and benches are to be planted and installed around the playground in memory of Noah and other local children who have passed away from SIDS.

“We wanted to do something positive for the people who had rallied around us,” Jason Cohen said, “and do something positive for him.”