The birth of a baby is usually a joyous occasion, but some expectant parents have to prepare for the unimaginable – the loss of a child.

Published Sep 4th, 2019

By Lindsay Hughes
lahughes@health.southalabama.edu

The birth of a baby is usually a joyous occasion, but some expectant parents have to prepare for the unimaginable – the loss of a child.

While working as a nurse in the Hollis J. Wiseman Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital, Rene Sprague, RN, MSN, recognized that these patients needed special support. In 2017, Sprague, along with Brian Brocato, D.O., a maternal-fetal medicine physician, established the Bridge Program at Children’s & Women’s in Mobile.

The program supports pregnant patients struggling with fetal anomalies, which are conditions that affect a fetus and may be fatal or cause ongoing health issues after birth. These conditions include fetal heart defects, skeletal dysplasia, chromosomal abnormalities, and brain/neural tube defects. The goal of the Bridge Program is to ensure that families are fully educated on their infant’s diagnosis and the associated risks, what a NICU stay entails, and, if necessary, end-of-life plans.

“It started with me following anomaly babies through every appointment,” said Sprague, who serves as the Bridge Program coordinator. “Then I started getting consults on every high-risk pregnancy, and I realized these patients needed a support system in place before and after delivery.”

The care team includes Charles “Miles” Harmon, M.D., a neonatal physician, and Bridge nurses Sprague and Meredith Isom, RN, who work closely with maternal-fetal medicine physicians throughout a patient’s pregnancy. The nurses attend each high-risk appointment with the mother, arrange counseling, connect patients and families to community support resources, and help create a plan for delivery and infant aftercare. They attend the patient’s delivery and remain a support person throughout the hospital stay and beyond.

The Bridge Program provides a support group to allow families to meet and share their stories, particularly those who have a history of multiple fetal losses. The program also provides education and support for parents of children with chronic medical needs.

“We want them to be able to make educated decisions regarding their children’s care and to be able to advocate for their children when they leave here,” Sprague said.

In addition to education and support, the Bridge Program helps families with funeral expenses, specialized equipment, gas cards and food – all provided through donations to the program.

“We have had many generous donations since the program's inception,” Sprague said. “The Bridge Program has no hospital budget, so the only way we can help our families is directly through donations.”

The Bridge Program recently received a $60,000 donation from Pilot Catastrophe Services employees to help complete the construction of a Bridge suite on the high-risk obstetrics floor of the hospital. The suite is larger than regular patient rooms and features a family-size bed.

“This suite will be used by families experiencing a lethal anomaly birth and allow them to spend as much time as possible with their baby in a home-like environment,” Sprague said. “The Pilot Catastrophe employee donation will be used directly to help finish building this suite.”

The donation for the Bridge family suite is from Adjusters Give Back, a nonprofit organization that is funded solely by Pilot employee donations. USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital holds special significance for the Pilot family, who experienced loss firsthand earlier this year. Nikki Pilot Carlisle, granddaughter of the company’s founders, was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her third child and passed away in February shortly after the baby’s birth.

“The Pilot family was so impressed with Nikki’s end-of-life care and everyone at Children’s & Women’s Hospital,” said Jennifer Bexley, head of the national catastrophe team at Pilot Catastrophe Services/Allstate Insurance. “They wanted a way to give back that would be meaningful for families who will be staying at the hospital for an extended period of time.”

To donate to the Bridge Program, contact the USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital Development Office at cwhdevelop@southalabama.edu or call (251) 415-1636.

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