Grand Ledge Family Dedicates Playground in Daughter's Honor

By: Anthony Sabella Email
By: Anthony Sabella Email

As six-year-old Jonas Lusis played on the newest addition to the Fitzgerald Park playground, in Grand Ledge, he knew it would pass the test for his sister, Ariana, too.

"I think she would like it a lot," he said.

Having built the playground in her honor, that's what's most important for the Lusis family.

"Ariana is my daughter. She passed away November 30, 2010," said Kelly Lusis, Ariana's mother. "She died in her sleep."

At first, Kris and Kelly Lusis were given no explanation for their 21-month-old's death. Eventually, it was determined to be Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood, a rare diagnosis similar to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

"SUDC is similar to SIDS in that it's unexplainable, sudden and unexpected, but the children are over the age of 12 months," said Kelly Lusis.

Since Ariana's death, the Lusis family has held an annual fundraiser at Fitzgerald Park called the run and play for Ariana Mae, which includes a 5k and activities for kids and families. It's not only to raise awareness for SUDC, but to give back to the SUDC Program and the community.

On Tuesday, the Lusis family, along with Eaton County Parks and Recreation, dedicated a new play structure at the park, which was built with proceeds from last year's fundraiser.

"It's probably one of the most exciting and heartwarming things that anybody's been involved in," said John Greenslit, Eaton County Parks and Recreation Director. "A family can overcome a tragedy and donate back, it's an inspiration to all of us."

But the fight isn't over. Last year, the Run and Play event raised around $16,000; most of which went towards the construction of the playground, but this year, all proceeds are going towards the fight against SUDC.

For Kelly Lusis, it's all in the name of her daughter.

"It does wonderful things for my heart to see children playing on something that was created in honor of her," she said.

The 3rd Annual Run and Play for Ariana Mae takes place, Saturday, August 17 at 9 a.m. All proceeds will go towards the SUDC Program. For more information, visit

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