At 2 years old, Malcolm Wildszewski was a child full of joy with a smile that would light up a room.
“He was just full of love for everyone. At daycare he would make us stop so he could say hi to every single teacher as we made our way through the center to get to his classroom,” said Tara Wildszewski, Malcolm’s mother. “Anyone he encountered, he made them feel like they were so important to him.”
In 2020, his life was cut short at the age of 2 on May 12, but the reason for his cause of death remains unexplained.
Malcolm’s parents are honoring him with the first-ever Miles for Malcolm walk and run 5K or 5-mile race on April 23 at the Pennington Montessori School in Pennington.
The race events include a virtual race and a kid’s fun run.
Miles for Malcolm is set to begin at 8 a.m. on April 23. The fun run for children age 10 and under will take place in the parking lot of Pennington Montessori.
Then at 9:30 a.m. participants, which include those pushing strollers, can walk, jog or run the 5K or 5-mile routes from Pennington Montessori.
Miles for Malcolm will allow parents Tara and Kim Wildszewski to bring people together to not only honor, but remember, their son. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wildszewskis could not gather for a funeral.
The race event also serves as a fundraiser for Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC) Foundation. SUDC promotes awareness, advocates for research and supports people affected by sudden unexpected or unexplained death in childhood, according to the foundation.
Tara and Kim Wildszewski have already raised more than $5,000 and will officially announce how much they raised at Miles for Malcolm on April 23.
Kim Wildszewski describes Malcolm as a young child who had a presence about him.
“They nicknamed him the Dalai Lama at Pennington Montessori because he was peaceful, full of sunshine and had this presence about him. I often think about how funny he was,” she said.
She added how they would play this game “thinking like an animal” and guess 21 questions.
“He always chose a dolphin. We would always say, ‘Malcolm, is it a dolphin?, He would say no and go through this whole routine,” Kim Wildszewski said. “We would say at the end, ‘Malcolm we give up, what is it?’ He would get this sweet smirk on his face and look right at you and say it is a dolphin. He knew how to participate in the room in a way a lot of 2 year olds don’t.”
In 2020, Malcolm’s health rapidly deteriorated. On May 8, he went from a healthy child jumping around with energy to feeling a little sick and having a low-grade fever during Mother’s Day on May 10.
“On May 10, there was nothing alarming by his presentation of symptoms. Monday morning [May 11] it was clear we needed to do something,” Tara Wildszewski said. “Monday morning he could not stand and was lethargic. They ran a bunch of tests and could not figure out what was wrong and they said we are going to escort him to another hospital for observation. All his lab work had come back normal.”
Malcolm had two seizures and would have to be placed in a medically induced coma.
“He seized one time very briefly and came back on his own, then seized another time and they had to intubate him and put him in a medically-induced coma,” Tara Wildszewski added. “He never woke up.”
A couple weeks following his death an autopsy was performed.
“A pathologist at Robert Wood Johnson relayed to us is that there is no reason why this happened. He described that Malcolm basically had a cold and with the way his body reacted it turned into encephalitis [inflammation of the brain],” Kim Wildszewski said. “From the pathologist we know he had encephalitis and that is what killed him. But, there is no explanation for why Malcolm would have such a severe response to a mild illness [cold].”
She added that Malcolm did not have a weakened immune system or auto-immune disease that would indicate he would have a severe response from a cold.
“The pathologist said she had to look into international studies to see if anything of this sort had been reported before and found one study in decades prior,” Kim Wildszewski said. “This is what links us to SUDC Foundation. The reason why he died remains unexplained and unexpected. We cannot point to anything and no one can give us answers to why this occurred. They made it clear that this was not preventable.”
When asked if not having the answer weighs on them, Tara Wildszewski said, “It definitely does.”
“Losing your child under any circumstances is just tragedy beyond tragedy. But, I think there is something particularly unfair and surprising with what happened to Malcolm,” she said. “I look back at the picture of us from a week before he died and just think we had no idea. The utter disbelief on top of the tragedy feels particularly cruel.”
Kim Wildszewski described it as Malcolm being cut off from life similar to a car accident.
“He was here healthy and thriving. We joke that he and his older brother Tobias learned how to jump at the same time,” she said. “I think the thing I struggle with is that he loved to be alive and was present. There is a part of me now I don’t trust numbers, everything is possible. I went from being that ‘oh its 98% you’ll experience something.’ I now live in the 2%.”
Miles for Malcolm races are being held at Pennington Montessori due to special connection with the Wildszewski family. The school dedicated an orchard with four fruit trees on school grounds to Malcolm and called Malcolm’s orchard.
“It was the closest thing we had to a funeral,” Tara Wildszewski said. “They just initiated and pulled it together. We could not image having Miles for Malcolm anywhere else.”
Miles for Malcolm will serve as a way to raise awareness about SUDC while allowing people to enjoy some fun.
“I want people to experience joy and I want Malcolm’s legacy to be one of joy and connection. I want people to know that this event is because of Malcolm’s life and not because of his death,” Kim Wildszewski said.
For more information on Miles for Malcolm and to register, visit https://runsignup.com/Race/NJ/Pennington/MilesforMalcolm2022