Soja Mehring and Liwang Ojala deliver care packages to patient families; holding care packages

Mighty Blog

Mom visits NICU, 20 years after loss of her daughter

In the spring of 1997, JoAnn and Darrin were overwhelmed with joy when they learned they were expecting a child. Just 9 months prior, the couple lost their son, Gabriel, during JoAnn’s fourth month of pregnancy. JoAnn and Darrin were determined keep JoAnn physically and emotionally healthy throughout her second pregnancy.

During her 23rd week of pregnancy, JoAnn began experiencing shortness of breath. Her coworkers encouraged her to go to the hospital, where doctors eventually diagnosed her with HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening liver disorder that is thought to be a type of severe preeclampsia (high blood pressure). Doctors advised JoAnn she would need to remain inpatient and on bed rest throughout the remainder of her pregnancy to ensure the health and well-being of her unborn child. However, a few days later, JoAnn’s condition took a turn for the worse and she needed to deliver her daughter.

hardigers-may2011-photo28On June 7, 1997, just shy of 24 weeks, baby Brighid was born. Immediately after her birth, Brighid was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Children’s Minnesota where she was intubated and placed on a ventilator to help her breathe. Although JoAnn and Darrin were told that Brighid faced several long-term health conditions, the couple remained hopeful that their daughter would experience the best outcome.

Due to her risk for seizure activity and high blood pressure, JoAnn was unable to see Brighid. Darrin spent the majority of his time running back and forth between her room and the NICU. Sona Mehring, a close friend of the family, asked if there was anything she could do to help the family. Darrin replied and asked her to make phone calls to family and friends with updates on the condition of JoAnn and Brighid. This inspired Sona’s development of a website meant to streamline communication between the family and close loved ones.

A few days later doctors discovered Brighid had developed a condition called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), an inflammatory bowel disease, which required emergency surgery. Despite the efforts of Brighid’s dedicated care team, Brighid passed away. Although Brighid’s life was short, her legacy and memory live on through the website JoAnn and Darrin’s friend, Sona, created during their time at Children’s known as CaringBridge.joann-and-darrin-blog-post-image

CaringBridge is a nonprofit social network dedicated to helping family and friends communicate with and support loved ones during a health journey. Anyone, anywhere, can create a free personal website to easily share updates and receive the love and strength they need from their friends and family during an illness or injury. It has evolved as a place for healing and comfort people as loved ones write messages of encouragement for those going through tough times and battling life’s unknowns.

Today, JoAnn and Darrin honor the memory of Brighid by finding ways to give back and support families in need through CaringBridge, which offers a Ways to Help section on each person’s websites to help friends and family members know how best to support them, whether financially thought personal fundraising or coordinating care and organizing daily and by making an in-person donation to NICU families.

When asked about why she and Darrin delivered care baskets to families in need, JoAnn said, “Families in crisis don’t really know what they need or want. Don’t be afraid to reach out and do something nice. Sometimes a real touch or hug is what people need the most.”

JoAnn Hardegger, center, mom of Baby Brighid, for whom CaringBridge is named, visits the NICU at Children’s Minnesota, on what would have been her daughter’s 20th birthday. Nurse Kathy Geragi, left, who was on duty in 1997, when Brighid was a patient, and CaringBridge founder Sona Mehring, look at an incubator.
Rachel Patterson