Back row from left: Devin Joslyn, Spencer Olivier, Luke Denton, J.T. Martin, Dr. Denise Wunderler, Sam Lewis, Kyler Presho, Jaylen Jasper, J.P. Reilly, Head Coach Jonah Carson
Front row from left: Assistant Coach Kris Berzins, Kevin Lamp, Blake Crisp, Joe Kelly, Garland Peed, Technical Coordinator Jeremy DeRoche
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Aug. 25, 2020) – Less than a year after an unthinkable personal tragedy, Dr. Denise Wunderler was back courtside.
Dr. Wunderler is a board-certified Primary Care Sports Medicine physician out of New Jersey. She has traveled as the team doctor with several USA Volleyball high performance national teams to various international competitions.
Her trip to Cuba in August 2018 with the Men’s Junior National Team for the NORCECA U21 Continental Championship was special, coming less than a year after the unexpected death of her 2-year-old daughter Vienna.
Taking the trip was part of Wunderler’s and her husband Michael Savino’s efforts to show their surviving two children that life needed to continue even though their hearts were broken.
“Since Vienna died, I feel we are a resilient family,” Wunderler said. “We are doing the best with what life has thrown us. We are teaching our kids to not just fold over and lie in your bed and cry. For us, it is not an option.”
Vienna died Nov. 12, 2017 of Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC). While all three children were being watched by their babysitter at home, Vienna fell asleep watching TV and never woke up.
Although most people have heard of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), little is known about SUDC, a category of death in children/adolescents/teenagers, ages 1-18. The death remains unexplained after a thorough investigation, including an autopsy, death-scene investigation and a medical-record review of the child and family.
Since Vienna’s death, Wunderler has devoted herself to raising awareness of SUDC. This category of death is not taught in medical training and is rarely known even in the medical community. Wunderler and her husband, both physicians, had not heard of SUDC until it happened to them.
On the trip to Cuba, she brought Team Vienna T-shirts with her in hopes that the 12-player team and staff would be willing to wear them after she shared her story (Team Vienna 4 SUDC Awareness Inc. is her family’s 501c3 nonprofit that Wunderler founded in 2019).
“I knew some of the guys were medically minded and interested in biology and going to med school,” Wunderler said. “This is an important thing. Even though they are just in college, very few people in the world know about SUDC. It was such a gift to talk to them about my own personal experience. And they really listened.”
Wunderler grew up as an athlete and played basketball for Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. She became interested in sports medicine through her father, a physical therapist for the Air Force. She got involved with USA Volleyball through Dr. David Dyck, who helps find doctors for the USAV HP national teams.
She has greatly enjoyed her work with USAV HP teams because she likes helping the athletes, and they give her the chance to refine skills she does not use in her everyday physician job, like taping ankles. She also has had to use her ingenuity to solve problems.
“In Cuba, one of the players was having sinus issues and getting all stuffed up during matches,” she remembered. “The only thing I had was saline solution for contact lenses. Before each match, I would have him lie with his head upside down and wash his sinuses out with the saline solution. It worked!”
Her connection with the 2018 Men’s Junior National Team was strong and after she told them about Vienna’s death and her fight to raise awareness of SUDC, the team did not hesitate to show its support.
“It was really a special group,” Wunderler said. “They were a great group of people. We really gelled.”
“When I gave them the Team Vienna shirts, Kyler Presho said, ‘You support us Doc, we support you.’ It made my eyes well up in tears.”
“I told the athletes, ‘you don’t realize it yet, but what you did – supporting Team Vienna and my family — helps so many other SUDC families who feel the lack of support. A U.S. team acknowledging SUDC is huge.”
For more information on Team Vienna, visit vienna.team/.
For more information on Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood, visit sudccoalition.com/.