In July 2010, Martha and Paul Sharkey of Wyndmoor, were thrilled to learn they were pregnant and starting a family. A few weeks later, they discovered their new family would be growing by two, not one. Martha was pregnant with twins. Their identical twin girls were due in March 2011. The pregnancy was moving along as planned until November 2010. The Sharkey’s lives changed forever when Claire Josephine and Mary Gladys arrived over 16 weeks early on November 14, 2010. Learning very quickly of the poor prognosis for babies born at 23 weeks of a 40 week gestation period, Martha and Paul entered the world of parenthood feeling extremely unprepared. They had no idea how to parent in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The tubes, the machines, the ventilator, and the meds were all foreign to these new parents. Not being able to hold your child when they are born except for their tiny hand through a small hole in their man-made womb is not natural. The fear, the unknown future, and the new world of medical terminology are all foreign.
Martha and Paul quickly learned to trust in the excellent medical team at Abington Memorial Hospital. The neonatologists were very honest about the road before them. The doctors informed them that the girls were both critically ill and had a small chance of survival. It was devastating news to hear, but Martha and Paul were grateful for the honesty from the doctors.
Families who have traveled through a NICU can attest to the fact that it feels like a roller coaster. There are many highs, lows, twists, and turns. The Sharkeys experienced the roller coaster analogy intimately over their 103 journey in the Abington NICU. On the third day in the NICU, Martha and Paul were informed that Claire had a devastating prognosis. Due to her traumatic birth, Claire suffered bilateral brain bleeds. They learned that Claire may not be able to walk, talk, or have a normal life if she survived. Eleven days after receiving Claire’s prognosis, Martha and Paul had to say good-bye to their baby, Mary. Due to an infection she suffered as a result of her prematurity, Mary was not able to recover and lost her fight on November 28, 2010, three days after Thanksgiving.
After the loss of their daughter, the Sharkeys persevered and continued to keep vigil by Claire’s isolette with an inspirational team of NICU nurses, doctors, and grandparents. During this period, one of Martha’s friends gave her a bracelet engraved with “One Day at a Time”. The Sharkeys used this phrase as their mantra as they watched Claire slowly learn how to breath without a respirator, gain weight, feed from a bottle, move out of an isolette, and gradually improve. The Sharkeys would celebrate when Claire’s medical team would let them know “today is a good day” for Claire. During Claire’s stay in the NICU from November 2010 through February 2011, she experienced the full gamut of good and bad days. Eventually, Claire beat the odds and came home on February 25, 2011. Claire has come a long way since her traumatic birth and devastating prognosis.
Claire is an energetic, happy, and caring 7 year old. She loves to swim, sing, and play outside. She is always making new friends and thoroughly enjoys her role as big sister to younger sister, Martha Rose. Claire is truly an inspiration to everyone she meets.
In memory of Mary and in honor of Claire, the Sharkeys founded “TODAY is a Good Day” in 2014. The mission of TODAY Is a Good Day is to provide personal, spiritual, and financial support to families of premature babies during their time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
To learn more about TODAY is a Good Day's initiatives, click here
Family, friends, nurses, and doctors reminded us to take the NICU journey "one day at a time". We rejoiced in the "good" days.