Parents spreading message about Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood Foundation.

CANTON  It was a normal summer day, Aug. 14, 2016, for Mark and Artavia Cleveland and their four kids. 

Their youngest, 2-year-old Tayjon, was a typical toddler who strove to keep up with his siblings: Taquan, 16; Tyra, 7; and Tyler, 4. 

Tayjon had spent a week in the neonatal intensive care unit at Mercy Medical Center after being born six weeks premature in 2014. Though he suffered from some breathing issues and an extended kidney, Tayjon, nicknamed "Jon-Jon," showed no outward signs of being ill, his mother said.

"The day before he died, he played with his siblings, he ate, he pooped, he did all the normal things," Artavia Cleveland recalled. 

That evening, father and youngest son watched an episode of "Peppa Pig," a popular cartoon.

"He was at the foot of the bed," Mark Cleveland recalled. "When he wanted our attention, he would grab our face. He grabbed my face and said, 'I love you.' I told him, 'Love you, too.' I put him in bed upstairs. That was the last time we spoke."

Tayjon was discovered by his sister the next morning.

The tragedy has spurred the family to become active in SUDC, the Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood Foundation, which promotes educational materials and online support groups. The Clevelands have a traveling banner on display in their front yard at 2022 Gibbs Ave. NE through Saturday to help raise awareness about SUDC.

No answers

"The whole goal is to bring awareness of what's going on with these babies," Artavia Cleveland said. "SUDC is not a cause of death; it's a category. Basically, you put your kids to bed and you wake up, and they're gone."

Last year, the deaths of more than 400 children in the United States were classified as unexplained. According to the foundation, unexplained toddler deaths are the fifth-leading cause of death for children 1 to 4 in the United States.

Tayjon, whom the family fostered then adopted in 2015, is among the dozens of children pictured on the banner. A second banner is on display at L.I.F.E. Ministries, at 2651 Market Ave. N. 

Nothing unusual was noted in a report detailing an examination done on Tayjon's body by the Stark County Coroner's Office.

Mark Cleveland said police did come to the house, asked questions and inspected where Tayjon died, but, "I had no answers. They had no answers."

No foul play was suspected.

Artavia Cleveland said people who see the banner have expressed to her that they were surprised so many children fall under the SUDC category.

"I would not be surprised if there are other families out there, that this is happened to them, but they weren't fortunate enough to get hooked up with SUDC," she said. 

Cleveland said the foundation's support group has been a lifeline for her family.  

Living on

"When Tayjon first died, I felt like, as a mom, I was out there on an island by myself," she said. "To be able to pour out your heart and have another mom say, 'I get it. I feel the same way today.'"

Though they're an online group, Cleveland said, the members find ways to help and encourage one another, from sending gift baskets to paying for cleaning services.

Cleveland said she would like to see more minority families get involved, adding that many probably aren't aware of the foundation. In the U.S., mortality rates for black babies — about 11.7 deaths per 1,000 births — are more than double that of white babies' rates of 4.8 per 1,000 births. 

The Clevelands said they were informed that one possible cause of their son's death was viral enterocolitis, an inflammation of the intestines.

Artavia Cleveland is not entirely convinced.

"It took them 10 months," she said.

Cleveland said she hasn't read the coroner's report, but banked some of Tayjon's tissue and had it sent it to SUDC Foundation pathologists for a research study. SUDC has a research partnership with New York University's Langone Medical Center. A registry and research collaborative was started in 2014. 

"This is my way of helping him live on, by allowing him to be a part of this," Artavia Cleveland said. "Maybe my child will be the one, and they'll say, 'Wow, this is really what happened to all these babies.' You never know." 

For more information, visit SUDC.org.

Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or charita.goshay@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @cgoshayREP