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The HEAL Program at Atrium

Virginia Gimenez and her husband Gustavo Gonzalez, had the nursery ready for their first child, Emma. A few days past her due date, Virginia didn’t feel Emma kicking. On May 28, Virginia delivered Emma, who had died due to lack of oxygen.

“We weren’t prepared for this at all. The umbilical cord had wrapped around and cut off Emma’s oxygen. She weighed six pounds, 15 ounces, and had a head full of dark hair,” remembers Virginia. The nurses at Miami Valley Hospital where Virginia delivered Emma put Virginia and Gustavo in touch with the HEAL (Help Endure A Loss ) Program at Atrium Medical Center. The couple lives near Middletown.

The thought of losing a child is beyond comprehension. But for new parents Amy and Zach Sowards, that thought became a reality in April 2010, when their beautiful daughter, Capri Leeann, was stillborn.

“I was at the doctor’s for a regular visit, and there was no baby’s heartbeat,” Amy recalls. She was admitted to Atrium Medical Center’s Family Birth Center, where her worst fears were confirmed.

Helping the Sowards and Virginia and Gustavo face their darkest hours is HEAL — Atrium’s perinatal loss program. Sheree Young, RNC, started HEAL in 1998. After having a stillborn child several years earlier, Sheree learned firsthand the depth of such a loss. Her personal understanding, together with tireless dedication, has resulted in HEAL serving more than 1,200 families from across southwest Ohio.

“Grieving parents suffering from a stillbirth, miscarriage or infant death need special help,” Sheree says. She visits families in the Family Birth Center, in the Emergency Department or in their homes, providing emotional support and any practical information they may need.

“Sheree has such a kind heart. She’s amazing,” Amy says. “She really helped us.”

“HEAL has been my life line,” said Virginia. “It is powerful to tell our story and be with people who know exactly what we’re feeling. It’s a very lonely world when you lose a child. I’m so glad to have this group.”

“For parents who have to say hello and goodbye so quickly, I let them know there’s a support system,” Sheree says. “I also can provide mementos, such as the child’s hand and foot impressions and a soft blanket with the baby’s name.”

Virginia thanks the nurses at MVH for strongly suggesting she hold Emma and have her photo taken. “At the time, it seemed almost gruesome but I’m so glad I have those things now. I just don’t want Emma to be forgotten. We have a hole in our life and HEAL has let us celebrate Emma.”

Sheree keeps in contact with families as long as they need her, often for a year or more. She readily gives out her pager number and lets people know she’s available 24/7.

HEAL offers several opportunities to network with other bereaved families.

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