A newsmaker you should know: Team helps parents deal with loss of a baby

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Sandra Stanley knows the pain of having a stillborn child. She also knows what it is like to provide nursing care for grieving parents.

So one might say she is perfect for her role as a member of the Angel Heart Bereavement Team at West Penn Hospital. Mrs. Stanley is a labor and delivery nurse and also serves as a volunteer with the team to help parents deal with the loss of a baby.

"I was already on the team when my son, Edward, was born" she said. "I knew the kind of work we were doing, but now I could see it from a whole new perspective."

Mrs. Stanley, 35, recently worked with Dyed in the Wool yarn shop in Ross to organize a drive for baby caps for the Angel Heart project. Knitters and crocheters from the shop made over 200 small caps to be used in the program. The hats were donated last month to West Penn.

"We will use them when we are photographing the babies then to give to the parents. Because the parents aren't taking home their babies, it is so important for them to have real items to take home and help them remember their babies," she explained.

Mrs. Stanley serves with several nurses and other health care providers on the team, including Heidy Freund, one of the co-founders of the team. Mrs. Freund, 29, of Shaler is another delivery and labor room nurse at West Penn.

Although the hospital provided some additional services for parents of stillborn children, Mrs. Freund helped to create a more formal network.

"Everyone thinks that working in this area of nursing is always happy, and most of the time it is, but we also have the sad part and I think that it is equally important, if not more, to provide care and support to those parents," Mrs. Freund said. "This is totally not what these parents expected when they found out they were pregnant, so they need more care -- the things we provide give them something tangible to take home."

Mrs. Freund talked about not only the caps that the local knitters provided, but blankets, baby outfits, castings of the baby's feet, stuffed animals and the photos. All of the items and services provided by the Angel Heart Team for the families are provided through donations, many from former recipients of the services.

According to Mrs. Stanley, the two also help to educate other health care providers about assisting parents of stillborn babies.

"Heidy and I both wrote articles for Paradigms, the professional journal for West Penn about our work," she said.

In 2012, Mrs. Stanley said West Penn has 52 families with stillborn or babies who died shortly after birth. According to statistics posted on the West Penn website, one out of five pregnancies end in a stillbirth, miscarriage or death of a newborn.

"That is a lot of people we need to help," she said.

Edward was Mrs. Stanley's first child. She and her husband, Michael, now have two healthy children -- Sean, 4, who was born on Edward's birth date one year later, and Leah, 21 months old.

"Just because Edward isn't with us here, doesn't mean that he isn't our son," she said, "And that is how these other parents feel. They are still their babies."

The Angel Team has two major events each year to help grieving families. The women helped create the Butterfly Release that is held every spring and the Annual Candlelight Service and Reception called the "Wave of Light" held every December.

Mrs. Freund said these services are important to help families recognize the place the children had in their lives and to remember them.

"Many extended families will come to these events. They don't have birthdays to celebrate so this is something they can do together in honor of the baby," she said.

Because the program is run strictly by donations, the team is currently working on a cookbook that is expected to be completed by next month.

The entire team works together to help the families through a difficult time, said Mrs. Stanley.

"This is the end of their hopes and dreams for their child. We help them start on their journey of grief and healing," she said.


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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