Knox Owen Palmer, the son of Mark and Elisha Palmer, was born on September 5, 2016. In addition to his parents, Knox was welcomed home by two older siblings- Hunter, 17 and Gracie, 11. At more than nine pounds when he was born, Knox also had a healthy appetite, which quickly earned him the nickname “Knox Blocks.” It didn’t take long before the entire household revolved around him.

“Every parent, when they have a baby, feels like this baby is going to do amazing things. I really just had that feeling about him. I just knew he was going to do something big,” Elisha said.  “I didn’t know it was going to be from heaven and not on earth.”

The Mayo Clinic defines Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) as an unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old. SIDS is sometimes known as crib death because the infants often die in their cribs. Researchers believe that a combination of physical and sleep environmental factors can make some infants more vulnerable to SIDS.

It happened just five days before Christmas.

“I remember what he was wearing. I remember the last time I kissed him and the huge grin that spread across his face. He was always so happy,” Elisha recalled. 

Common physical factors associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome include low birth weight and  a recent respiratory infection. Less obvious, because it can’t be seen, is a birth defect where a portion of the brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep is underdeveloped, causing it not to work properly. 

Shortly after that, the Palmer’s lives changed in a way they could never have prepared. Knox went down for a nap and stopped breathing in his sleep. Many things about the day are a blur to the family, but the few details they do remember will always haunt them.  Elisha rode in the front seat of the ambulance, unable to see Knox from her vantage point as emergency responders tried to resuscitate him. Mark met her at the hospital, and the couple waited in a room for news of their son.

“It felt like forever. They kept coming in and giving us updates. Finally, all of the staff that worked on him came in and they were just crying. They did everything they could. They just couldn’t resuscitate him. It happened so fast. You wake up and you think your day is going to just be like every other day…”

Risk Factors: Although sudden infant death syndrome can strike any infant, researchers have identified several factors that may increase a baby’s risk. An infant’s family history, if it includes siblings or cousins who have died of SIDS, puts them at a higher risk. For reasons researchers have yet to determine, nonwhite infants are more likely to develop SIDS. Babies who are born prematurely or live with smokers are also at higher risk. Maternal factors can also contribute to the risk of SIDS. The mother’s age, if younger than 20, her use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs and quality of prenatal care can make a baby more susceptible to SIDS.

How does one cope with a tragedy of this magnitude? Where does the strength come from to fill the void created by such an immense and unexpected loss? In the wake of their grief, an idea began to grow in the hearts of Mark and Elisha Palmer, along with a determination to fulfill their son’s destiny to do something amazing.

“Mark and I were crying together and I just said, ‘We HAVE to do something. I have no idea what that looks like right now, I don’t know what that means, but I know we HAVE to do something so nobody has to feel this way again. That was the start of it,” Elisha remembered saying.

It was Mark who had the name for the foundation that would bear their son’s name. 

“I don’t know what it looks like either,” he said.

“But I think we should call it the Knox Blocks Foundation.” 

Love More. Worry Less. With those four simple words, Owlet, a company in Utah co-founded by Jordan Monroe, declares the mission of their product, the Smart Sock 2. Marketed as the “better baby monitor,” the Smart Sock 2 uses pulse oximetry technology to track an infant’s heart rate and oxygen levels. The monitor fits in a sock that can be comfortably placed on the baby’s foot and sends a signal to the base unit, which can be situated up to 100 feet away. Should the baby’s heart rate or oxygen level fall out of normal range, an alert is immediately broadcast to the base unit and a cell phone app the company has developed.

During Elisha’s pregnancy, the Owlet monitor was something she had explored, even saying to Mark after Knox was born, “When he goes to his own room, I definitely want to purchase this product.”

“It’s $300. It’s a lot of money. And in the back of your head you think, ‘I’ve raised two kids. I’ve raised two babies and didn’t have any problems.” “You never think something is going to happen to you. You don’t. But I hadn’t brought myself to purchase it yet. Obviously, it’s one of the biggest regrets that I’ll ever have that we didn’t purchase it.”

“I don’t know for sure that it would have saved him. Nobody knows that. But it alerts parents if there’s a problem. If their oxygen level drops, or if their heart rate goes up or down, you get an alarm.”

“We did a lot of research into it. There’s several different monitors but there’s nothing that has the technology like Owlet does. To us, everything else pales in comparison. We had talked to several families that have it and there truly were life-saving instances where they used it,” Elisha recalled. The Palmers had found a purpose for their foundation.

“We need to get this to as many babies as we can. This is it. This is what our Foundation is going to do,” Elisha declared.

As the Palmers began the work of establishing their foundation, little did they know that a partnership with Owlet would soon be in the offing. During the early months of 2017, the tedious work of establishing a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization began with consulting an attorney. Soon they were assembling board members for the Knox Blocks Foundation and a separate committee devoted to fundraising projects. Through it all, it was the love and support of the La Porte City community that kept them going.

“Knox Blocks would not be as successful as it’s been if we lived any place else. The response we’ve received from this community… It’s just incredible. It’s incredible that a town can be so loving and so supportive. We’ve truly survived this tragedy because of our community,” Elisha said. On April 20, 2017, a social media announcement declared the Knox Blocks Foundation was accepting donations. The Palmers’ initial goal to distribute Owlet monitors was a modest one.

“If we get 100 out, I would be really happy,” Elisha recalled thinking.

Within a few months, the scope of their efforts changed dramatically. It began with the gift of an Owlet monitor to friends who were expecting a child of their own. Elisha sent them a message explaining why they wanted them to have the Owlet monitor and mentioned the ultimate goal of establishing a Foundation dedicated to providing baby monitors to as many families possible. Unbeknownst to the Palmers, their friend contacted Owlet and shared their story with the company. Within an hour of receiving that message, Owlet asked to contact the Palmers directly.

“Their response was awesome. They just said, ‘We want to do whatever we can. We can match you one for one.’ I had hoped that maybe one day we would be in contact with them and maybe they would give us a discount of 10% or 20% off. I never in a million years would have guessed they would match us dollar for dollar,” Elisha said.

Like so many things associated with the Knox Blocks Foundation, the first major event planned by the fundraising committee more than exceeded expectations. The event, held in July at the La Porte City Golf Club, was attended by an estimated 700 people.

“[The committee] They’re incredible. They put their heart and soul into our event.”

The free-will donation dinner, live and silent auctions, and sales of Knox Blocks shirts raised a whopping $45,000. 

“We had people come from all over the place. So many people I didn’t even know. There was a line out the door, as people waited 45 minutes to get in. It was truly overwhelming in the best way possible,” Elisha said. 

A feature story in People Magazine followed. Suddenly, what had been a few hundred applications submitted online soon mushroomed to 4,000. The application form had to be temporarily taken down to allow the thousands already received to be properly reviewed. The process of personally reading and responding to every applicant is one that Elisha insists on doing herself.

Premature infants, babies suffering from a variety of ailments, families without the financial means to purchase a monitor, all of these situations and more are contained in the applications that can bring tears to Elisha’s eyes. Families with perfectly healthy babies, much like Knox, are important, too, and are not overlooked. 

To date, the Foundation has shipped monitors to more than 22 states and Canada. It didn’t take long for stories of their value to be shared, either. In one case, a swaddled baby was placed in the crib, his parents unaware their infant had learned how to roll over. When the alarm sounded, the parents rushed into the room to discover their baby was face down, head buried in a blanket and unable to lift his head to breathe. Thanks to the monitor, a tragedy had been averted.

The medical professionals who discount the claims of baby monitor manufacturers will never convince Elisha Palmer their value should be questioned. While she understands there are physicians who worry the presence of a baby monitor may lead some parents to become lax in practicing safe sleeping habits for their baby, she would give anything to have experienced a false alarm with Knox.

SIDS: Practicing Safe Sleep

The items in a baby’s crib and his or her sleeping position, when combined with a baby’s physical problems, can increase the risk of SIDS. Examples include:

  • Sleeping on the stomach or side. Babies placed in these positions to sleep might have more difficulty breathing than those placed on their backs.
  • Sleeping on a soft surface. Lying face down on a fluffy comforter, a soft mattress or a waterbed can block an infant’s airway.
  • Sharing a bed. While the risk of SIDS is lowered if an infant sleeps in the same room as his or her parents, the risk increases if the baby sleeps in the same bed with parents, siblings or pets.
  • Overheating. Being too warm while sleeping can increase a baby’s risk of SIDS. Source: The Mayo Clinic

With four months remaining in 2017, the Foundation has already eclipsed the goal of distributing 100 Owlet baby monitors. Thanks to the support of a loving community and a story that has gone viral, the Knox Blocks Foundation has more than 400 monitors to distribute. And they’re just getting started.

As Mark and Elisha Palmer look forward to 2018, what will the future look like, as the La Porte City couple continues their quest to spare families the agony of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? Ultimately, they would like to see every baby go home from the hospital with a monitor. It’s a determination that can clearly be seen in Elisha’s eyes and heard in her words.

“You always read stories like this and never think that you’re going to be the story.. I HATE that we’re the story. But we are. If we have to be the story, if that is what God has given us to deal with, then we’re going to use our story to help as many people as we can.” 

And while the work of the Knox Blocks Foundation will never ease the pain of losing their son, it perhaps will bring them closer to fulfilling Knox’s amazing destiny. Big things do, indeed, come from heaven.

Editor’s note: Donations to the Knox Blocks Foundation can be made online at www.knoxblocks.org. Because of the matching funds provided by Owlet, purchasing of an Owlet Smart Sock 2 by making a $300 donation to Knox Blocks Foundation will allow an additional monitor to be provided to another family. Knox Blocks apparel, another way to support the work of the foundation, is also available for purchase on the foundation’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/knoxblocks).