Thursday, August 6, 2015

Gabriel’s Courage: One Family’s Story

It was Christmas Eve when Maricela gave birth to twins, knowing that only one would survive.  Along with her family’s love, she had the support of Gabriel’s Courage, a family-centered perinatal program for expectant parents facing a life-limiting prenatal diagnosis.

Early in her pregnancy, Maricela learned she was carrying a boy and a girl, but that the girl had anencephaly (a neural tube defect).  “It was hard,” Maricela said, her voice tight with emotion, “but she is my daughter, and I love her.”

Because she had a high-risk pregnancy, Maricela was referred to Catholic Health Services (CHS) physician Dina El Kady, MD, who is board certified in maternal fetal medicine and specializes in difficult cases.  Dr. El Kady told Maricela and and her husband, Hilver, about Gabriel’s Courage, a free CHS program offered by specially trained staff from Good Shepherd Hospice, incorporating a multidisciplinary approach to care and support through pregnancy, birth and post-birth.  Ostetricians, registered nurses, social workers, chaplains, child life specialists and bereavement specialists work together to offer compassionate support, education and birth planning services.  The program is available to individuals regardless of religious affiliation, and families are connected with additional community resources, as needed.

“Michelle and MaryAnn [part of the Gabriel’s Courage team] would come to see me every two weeks and helped with my other children,” Maricela explained.  She and her husband have a 14-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son.  “Whenever I felt sad and thought, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ I could call Michelle and she’d give me advice.”

“Whenever I had a question, MaryAnn would always get back to me with an answer,” added Maricela.  “I love them.  My situation wasn’t easy, but they were there for me.”

While Maricela’s daughter Elisha lived only for an hour, the family and Gabriel’s Courage staff made the most of that precious time.  Deacon Rich Becker was in the delivery room and blessed Elisha.

“The dignity of human life, the effect one human being can have on others, the outpouring of God’s grace on His people cannot be measured in years, days, minutes or seconds,” said Deacon Rich. “Baby Elisha changed the lives of all she met in her short, beautiful life.”

Gabriel’s Courage Coordinator Maribeth McKeever commented, “The program offers support that addresses the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of families, helping to bridge feelings of loss, while validating the role of parents. This offers hope, affirms life and provides an opportunity for the baby to be welcomed into the family.”

If the family wishes, a professional photographer who works with Gabriel’s Courage will take pictures of the baby and family.  The staff that assists the family can be present in the delivery room, if the family desires.  Also, they will help create memories, saving a lock of hair, making impressions of hands and feet, and gathering the baby’s blanket, hat and medical bracelet.  For more than a year after birth, the team will continue to support the family.

“We are guided by something greater than ourselves.  Elisha’s brief life may forever change the lens through which I see life, death and consolation,” shared bereavement specialist Michelle Graff, LCW.  “To be able to walk alongside families on their intimate journeys of grief is a privilege for which I can’t express enough gratitude.”

“The program is amazing,” emphasized Maricela.  “I thank God I went to Dr. El Kady and she called Gabriel’s Courage for me.” She is also grateful to Serena Wu, MD, a Maternal Fetal Medicine physician who was involved in her care.

“She’s the one who took care of me.  I love her and stay in contact with her,” Maricela said.

For more information about Gabriel’s Courage, please call (631) 465-6363.