Paying It Forward
“This is it.”
When Melissa Shapiro, Laurie Epstein and their husbands flipped through the auction book at the recent March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction fundraiser, a single item stopped them in their tracks. In that instant, they knew exactly where they wanted to place their bid.
They wanted to buy a catered dinner for families whose babies were in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Methodist Women’s Hospital. The dinner, held Thursday evening, preceded World Prematurity Day on Friday, November 17th.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Melissa with a smile. “I know what they're going through.”
A mother's bond
Laurie and Melissa have been close friends for a very long time. Their husbands are business partners – owners of Keystone Glass Company. But the bond these women share is much stronger than just business. Both have had their share of heartache when it comes to premature birth.
Laurie lost her first baby at 23 weeks. Melissa’s three children were each born early. Two spent 13 days each in the NICU.
“The NICU is this roller coaster of ups and downs,” said Melissa. “It's scary. I want these parents to know that they're not alone, that other people know what they're going through, and that we feel them.”
The pain of loss
“I remember it so vividly as if it was yesterday.”
Laurie’s story of prematurity is not a happy one. The pain of the loss of her first child is burned into her memory.
“He was alive for a couple of hours and we got to hold him,” said Laurie as a tear slid down her cheek. “The nurses were just so amazing. They were angels.”
But through her loss and the difficulties of conceiving that followed, Laurie found hope and strength once again.
“I can’t say enough about Dr. Robertson,” said Laurie, who now has three happy, healthy children with the help of the prenatal care provided by Dr. Andrew Robertson, a maternal-fetal medicine physician at Methodist Women’s Hospital Perinatal Center. “With each pregnancy, he gave me everything I needed to feel reassured and safe. He sat and talked with me every week as though I was his only patient. He would just pull up a chair and reassure me that everything was going to be ok.”
Life in the NICU
Melissa’s prematurity journey proved to her that from the very beginning, her babies were fighters.
“Joshua was born early at 35 weeks,” said Melissa. “We had home health for about a month. When Evan was born, they watched me a little more closely. He came early too, at 34 weeks. Even though he was bigger at 5 pounds 11 ounces, he kept us on our toes. He had troubles breathing and needed to be on a ventilator in the NICU.”
With another child at home, Melissa said it was difficult leaving her baby behind every night. The thing that kept her reassured was knowing he was in a safe space receiving the best care possible.
“It's hard to leave your baby in someone else's hands,” said Melissa. “At least when my third baby Lea was born at 35 weeks, I knew what was in store with a NICU stay. It was hard because we had two kids at home, and there’s always this guilt that you’re leaving your baby behind. When I was here I felt like I needed to be with the other two, and when I was home I felt like I need to be here. But knowing that she was going to come home and she would be happy and healthy put me at ease. The NICU staff knew what they were doing so that was comforting to me the second time around.”
Because ‘thank you’ doesn’t seem enough
Today, with three kids apiece, Laurie and Melissa are busy moms on the go, but say they continue to be overwhelmed with gratitude for the care they received at Methodist.
“Because of them, my children are here. They saved our kids’ lives.”
“There's nothing we could possibly ever do to repay what the doctors, nurses, techs and staff did for us,” said Laurie. “I don’t think they realize the impact they have on our whole lives. They will always be so important to us and our family. It's so evident that for them this is so much bigger than just a job.”
It’s the reason why at the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction, the Epsteins and Shapiros raised their bidding paddles over and over. Their gift to the NICU families, and donation to help the March of Dimes fight premature births, totaled $6,000.
“It was the least we can do.”