The Taylor McKeen Shelton Foundation is a Northwest Arkansas based nonprofit that is dedicated to helping fund research to learn what is behind the medically unexplained deaths of hundreds of children every year.
Losing a child is a reality too many parents have to face. However some are forced to come to grips with an even more difficult situation; never knowing what the cause of death was.
A local family has turned their personal loss and heartache into mission to find out what took their beloved son away from them, while helping others in the same situation.
“It was Fathers Day weekend and we were getting ready to go to the lake,” Taylor McKeen Shelton Foundation Co-Founder Ella Shelton remembered.
Dr. Wes Shelton and his wife Ella were preparing for a weekend of family fun on the morning of June 15, 2013. That morning changed their lives forever.
“When we went in to get him up, it’s a scream from Wes that I’ll never forget,” Ella Shelton shared with a trembling voice. “It, it just made you wanna’ throw up.”
Wes and Ella faced the moment every parent fears. Their son was lifeless. They performed CPR, but little Taylor was gone.
He was too old for it to be SIDS and to this day there is still no known medical reason for why Taylor died. The sudden and unexpected death of a child, 12 months and older, for unexplained reasons is referred to as Sudden Unexplained Death in Children — or SUDC — once a thorough investigation is completed. Sadly, there are far more questions than answers for hundreds every year.
“We’re at the very early stages of research for SUDC,” Taylor McKeen Shelton Foundation Co-Founder Dr. Wes Shelton explained. “We’re at where SIDS was 35 years ago.”
A lack of answers is understandably frustrating and difficult to process. When asked if he has come to terms with what happened to his son, Wes Shelton offered a difficult piece of honesty.
“I’m still dealing with it daily, so I don’t have a good answer there,” Wes Shelton said.
Most marriages collapse after the death of a child. Wes and Ella realized that if they wanted to make it through the worst moment of their lives together they had to commit to letting the other grieve in their own way.
“I think grieving is very different and I think that a lot of people have a lot of problems if they don’t accept that the other one is going to grieve differently,” Ella Shelton offered.
When asked how he dealt with Taylor’s death early on, Wes Shelton offered another hard and honest answer.
“Poorly,” Wes Shelton said with a nervous chuckle. “Ella went through it with a lot of therapy.
“I went to one session and that was it. That was plenty for me and that’s just not what I wanted to do.”
While Wes Shelton found his own way, his wife benefited from the therapy, but she turned to multiple alternatives — like acupuncture.
“Anything that I could find that might make me feel better is what I did,” Ella explained.
As it turns out, action became the greatest tool of healing. Since learning about the SUDC Foundation, the Sheltons have played an important part in growing the reach of the nonprofit’s awareness efforts as well as its ability to raise money through their own nonprofit — the Taylor McKeen Shelton Foundation.
“The funding that they had was very minimal for research and over the last five years it has grown dramatically,” Wes Shelton said.
The Sheltons have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for SUDC research and a number of other organizations locally, which includes the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
“They never knew Taylor and they may have just met us through the foundation,” Wes Shelton shared. “Not everybody was a friend of ours beforehand. And so it’s pretty amazing what people will do when they see people in need.”
The annual events here in Northwest Arkansas and their hometown of Batesville are a family affair that includes Taylor’s little brother Thayer who never got to meet his big brother.
“I want Thayer to see what this has done for us and what we can do for other people in Taylor’s memory and not be such a sad thing, that we give to other people because of Taylor,” Ella Shelton explained.
This past November the Taylor McKeen Shelton Foundation donated $75,000 to the SUDC Foundation and they are always looking for more support. Click here to learn more about the Taylor McKeen Shelton Foundation as well as how you can help answer the most important question the Sheltons have ever asked.