Sunday, 14 Jul 2024

Remembering a Team That Stood Up for a Team

Team Vienna

August 25, 2020 – Colorado Springs, Colorado – In the face of unimaginable personal tragedy, Dr. Denise Wunderler found solace courtside. As a board-certified Primary Care Sports Medicine physician from New Jersey, Dr. Wunderler has accompanied several USA Volleyball high performance national teams to international competitions. However, her journey to Cuba with the Men’s Junior National Team for the NORCECA U21 Continental Championship in August 2018 held a special significance. It marked a return to the sport less than a year after the devastating loss of her 2-year-old daughter, Vienna.

In the aftermath of Vienna’s passing, Dr. Wunderler and her husband, Michael Savino, chose to show their two surviving children that life had to go on, despite their broken hearts. Their resilience and determination became the pillars of strength that guided their family through this unfathomable tragedy.

The passing of Vienna on November 12, 2017, was attributed to Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC). Unlike Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), SUDC remains largely unknown and unexplored, even within the medical community. With no apparent cause found after a thorough investigation and review, including an autopsy, death-scene examination, and medical-record assessment, SUDC poses a significant challenge for medical professionals.

Since Vienna’s passing, Dr. Wunderler has dedicated her efforts to raise awareness of SUDC, which is not widely taught or recognized in medical training. She and her husband, both physicians, had not previously encountered SUDC until it tragically impacted their lives.

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During her trip to Cuba, Dr. Wunderler carried Team Vienna T-shirts, hoping that the players and staff of the Men’s Junior National Team would be willing to wear them after hearing her story. (Team Vienna 4 SUDC Awareness Inc. is the family’s 501c3 nonprofit organization, founded by Dr. Wunderler in 2019).

Dr. Wunderler emphasized the importance of spreading awareness about SUDC, particularly to a group of young athletes who showed a keen interest in biology and pursuing careers in medicine. The players’ receptiveness to her personal experience left a lasting impact.

Dr. Wunderler’s involvement with USA Volleyball stems from her background as an athlete who played basketball for Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. Her interest in sports medicine, influenced by her physical therapist father who served in the Air Force, led her to connect with Dr. David Dyck, who helps recruit doctors for the USA Volleyball high performance national teams.

Working with USA Volleyball’s high performance teams has been a rewarding experience for Dr. Wunderler. It allows her to assist athletes while honing skills that she doesn’t commonly use in her everyday practice, such as taping ankles. Additionally, she has had to rely on her resourcefulness to find innovative solutions to unexpected challenges.

During her time in Cuba, one of the players experienced sinus issues that affected his performance. With only saline solution for contact lenses at her disposal, Dr. Wunderler uniquely resolved the problem by having the player lie with his head upside down before each match to flush his sinuses with the saline solution. It proved to be a simple yet effective solution.

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The connection between Dr. Wunderler and the Men’s Junior National Team grew stronger as she shared Vienna’s story and her mission to raise SUDC awareness. The team immediately embraced her cause and demonstrated unwavering support.

Dr. Wunderler recalls an emotional moment when Kyler Presho, one of the players, expressed, “You support us, Doc, we support you.” His words touched her deeply and reinforced the profound impact their team could make beyond the volleyball court.

Dr. Wunderler conveyed her gratitude to the athletes, emphasizing the significance of their support for Team Vienna and her family. Their act of solidarity reverberated far beyond the volleyball community, providing solace to other SUDC families who often feel isolated and unsupported. Acknowledgment from a U.S. national team carried immense importance and meant the world to those affected by SUDC.

For more information on Team Vienna, visit Alpinetgheep.


Q: What is Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC)?

A: Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC) is a category of death that affects children, adolescents, and teenagers between the ages of 1 and 18. It remains unexplained even after a thorough investigation, including an autopsy, death-scene examination, and medical-record review.

Q: How can I support Team Vienna?

A: You can support Team Vienna by visiting Alpinetgheep and learning more about their cause. Donations and spreading awareness are both valuable ways to contribute.


The story of Team Vienna and Dr. Denise Wunderler is one of resilience, hope, and the power of community. In the face of unimaginable loss, they exemplify the strength to rise above adversity and inspire others to do the same. Through their actions, they shed light on SUDC, a little-known category of death that demands greater awareness and understanding. The support shown by the Men’s Junior National Team demonstrates the profound impact that compassion, empathy, and unity can have, not only within the volleyball world but also in the lives of countless individuals and families facing similar challenges.

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