Carissa Bartholomew, of Lafayette, was in her second trimester when she and her husband Caleb learned their baby girl had anencephaly, an underdeveloped brain and incomplete skull. The diagnosis most likely meant their child, if born alive, would survive for only a few hours or days.
She and her husband began researching what resources were available to them and soon learned about Pediatric Palliative Care at Community Health Network. They connected with Melissa Fields, nurse practitioner and patient care coordinator, as well as Cady Linn, MD, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology.
From the diagnosis until delivery, Carissa felt that Melissa and Dr. Linn were much more than clinical caregivers—they were on her team and frequently went above and beyond to meet her needs.
“The overall experience was incredible,” she said. “Their attention to detail was so helpful as was the ability to make decisions for our daughter and our family.”
Melissa coordinated a team to care for the family. When Carissa and her husband wanted to explore Community’s NICU and speak to a surgeon just in case their daughter lived longer than expected, Melissa helped to facilitate a tour and a meeting with the appropriate individuals.
“As a mother, I needed to know I’d done everything I could to help my baby live,” said Carissa. “Melissa made that possible.”
Baby Zoe came one week earlier than anticipated. Born at 9:37 p.m. and weighing 2 pounds and 14 ounces, Zoe was first held by her father in the operating room. Her grandfather baptized her, a photographer captured photos and Zoe spent the next few hours enjoying skin-to-skin contact with Carissa.
“We felt like she tried to show us her personality,” she said. “She was unable to make noises, but her mouth moved a lot. In one moment, she seemed to use all of her energy to scoot toward my face. Everyone in the operating room just stopped and watched.”
Soon after delivery, they were taken to a patient room. Melissa helped to bring family members back to meet baby Zoe, including Carissa and Caleb’s two sons, ages 5 and 2, who sang “Happy Birthday” to their little sister.
Every 15 minutes, Melissa checked Zoe’s heartbeat, which was gradually slowing. Just after midnight, Zoe’s heart stopped. She was wrapped in a special cooling blanket and stayed in the room with Carissa and Caleb until they left the hospital.
“We just needed her there with us,” she said. “Overall, it was such a peaceful experience. Everyone at Community was on board to make it that way.”
After returning home to their home in Lafayette, Carissa immediately painted her office hot pink and hung pictures of Zoe on the walls.
“She motivated me to go on,” she said.
Out of gratitude for the care she and her family received at Community, Carissa donated gift bags—filled thanks to the generosity of her family and friends—for other families facing a similar situation. She also took her sons shopping to fill gift bags for siblings to receive when their baby brother or sister arrived.
“I thought of our first meeting with Melissa, and I wanted to offer something meaningful that she could give a family in an uncertain time,” she said.
Giving back has aided in her family’s healing process. Today, Carissa is dedicated to ensuring more hospitals have the cooling blanket that was so helpful to her family during their time in the hospital with Zoe.
“When I realized not all families might have this, it broke my heart,” she said. “Because I’ve been through this, it is my responsibility to make sure this resource exists. And if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that when there is a need and you ask people to help—it will happen.”
When Carissa pauses to think about the effect her daughter is having, she is blown away.
“At not quite three pounds, living for not quite three hours, she’s making an impact on our world,” said Carissa.
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