Updated October 2019 with new HeartPrints Coordinator
After a completely normal pregnancy, Liz Burke went in for her 35-week prenatal appointment and the doctor couldn’t find her baby’s heartbeat.
“An ultrasound confirmed the unthinkable,” Burke recalled. “Our little girl was gone, just like that. We had so many questions and so much heartache.”
In May 2015, baby Lily was born silent into the world. Burke remarked that she had her brother’s chubby cheeks and a head full of dark hair - she was beautiful. “We never got an answer as to why her little heart stopped beating. As it turns out, a large percentage of the time, stillbirth cannot be explained.”
For pregnant moms, it’s unimaginable – leaving the hospital without your baby ever coming home. Unfortunately, it does happen, and sometimes without any explanation. At Mercy Hospital St. Louis, a program known as Mercy HeartPrints offers support for families who experience this tremendous grief when they most need it.
The program has been quietly providing support and tender care for parents and their babies since 1987. Maggie Loyet ran the program until her retirement in 2018 when Jen Hibdon took over as coordinator. Along with the care team, Hibdon provides support and assistance to families that experience a loss by miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth or neonatal death.
“The Mercy HeartPrints staff was simply amazing,” Burke said. “They treated our sweet girl like their own. Maggie helped us explain to our son Carter, who was 3 at the time, what had happened. She helped us make burial arrangements.”
When it was time for Burke to go home, she and her husband Dan got to see Lily one last time.
“We got to hold her, snuggle her and give her hundreds of kisses amongst a gallon of tears,” Burke said. “Some of the things I treasure the most are the things I came home with from the hospital. I was able to keep the sleepers, hats, and blankets that Lily wore.”
Hibdon makes sure each family gets a memory book and keepsakes, including professional photos, hand and footprints, a lock of hair, identification bands, crib card, mold of hands and feet, and other treasured memories.
In addition to support while in the hospital, Mercy HeartPrints also hosts a monthly support group. Burke and other moms from this group recently hosted a trivia night benefitting the program.
“HeartPrints helps so many families each year,” Burke said. “We just wanted to raise money for them, so the program can continue to provide families with the resources they need. So when they go home with empty arms, they can at least have a little something to hold, or something to show, or something to read that lets them know that they are not alone.”
Mercy hospitals across four states offer similar programs or resources.