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Building a legacy for Noah

A Sandy woman turns a painful family experience into a positive event
by: Garth Guibord, Carol Cohen shows a picture of her son, Noah, shortly after he was delivered last September. Cohen says Noah's Quest keeps her son alive, in a way, through helping others.

Hope doesn't come easily for a parent dealing with the loss of a child. Carol Cohen understands that.

Doctors told Cohen that her first child, Noah Jacob Cohen-Mallon, would be born on Sept. 25, 2005. But two days after her due date checkup - after nine months of pregnancy and planning - the baby's heart stopped.

So did Cohen's, in a way.

'There are some days that I won't even do anything,' she said. 'It's just really difficult.'

Cohen took two months off work to mourn her son, but when she returned she brought with her a determination to preserve Noah's memory and to let his short life impact thousands of people.

To that end, Cohen created Noah's Quest - an annual walk/run to raise money for fetal medicine and a group that supports people who, like her, are dealing with the loss of an infant.

The event takes place at the Sandy High School track, 17100 Bluff Road, this Saturday, June 24. A 10K run begins at 9 a.m., followed by a 5K walk starting at 9:10 and a 5K run at 9:30. Before the walk/run is started, a candle lighting ceremony will take place to honor the memory of the children who have died.

Other activities include a climbing wall, face painting, balloon animals, family entertainment by 'Nana Banana' and a raffle with numerous prizes.

The cost is $20 for all events if pre-registered; $25 on race day. All proceeds of the event will go to the fetal medicine department of Oregon Health Sciences University and Brief Encounters, a support group for parents who have lost a baby.

'This is not just for people who have had stillborns,' Cohen noted. 'This event is for everyone that has lost a child or the hope of a child.'

Saturday marks the inaugural Noah's Quest, but Cohen sees the fundraiser spreading to other communities. Next year, she plans on starting one in Hood River, and eventually hopes to bring it to Portland.

'This could be a calling for me; I could be doing this throughout Oregon,' Cohen said. She hopes getting the issue out in the open will allow people to heal from it.

Pat Schwiebert, the co-founder of Brief Encounters and the event's guest speaker, says there are many people who silently struggle with the death of an infant.

'Because no one else knew the baby, it's pretty much a non-event for others,' Schwiebert noted. 'People don't talk about it, and other people don't know it happened. Some estimate there are as many as 1.2 million deaths (including miscarriages). There's a lot of unspoken and unacknowledged grief out there.'

Cohen agrees. '(Stillborn births are) something that people don't really talk about, but when they see this event, I think it's going to reach a lot of people.'

Schwiebert said the event reflects Cohen's healthy reaction to the tragedy.

'Parents look back and remember the hopes and dreams they had for this little one,' Schwiebert said. 'But they also look to the future to the hope that others will not have to experience this deep loss. These babies have already changed their parents' lives. These parents now want to change to help change the world in their baby's memories.'

Cohen agrees. 'This event helps me to remember him, and give him some kind of existence.'

Still, Cohen isn't sure how she will react to the event that bears her son's name.

'It's a little strange to see Noah's picture on the flyers. They're everywhere, all over my house. I'm kind of numb to it. But it really hasn't hit home yet. I don't know how I'm going to be the day of (the event).'

She continued, 'It's difficult because it's so personal,' Cohen said. But it's not about me, it's for everyone.'

For more information, contact the Sandy Recreation Department at 503-668-5569.