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Guardians of Angels

This is the story of a family who lost a baby, filled with tears and laughter, hugs and prayers, beginnings and endings and a lifetime of memories stored up in a few short months.

It also is the story of the people who gave them the strength to get through the loss, a loving and dedicated group of nurses and other healthcare providers at Angel Babies, a perinatal hospice program in the Central Valley.

Baby on Board

In 2003, 22 weeks pregnant with her second child, Kathy DeLaCerda went in for a routine ultrasound at Community Medical Center in Fresno. Her twin sister, Kim, was a labor and delivery nurse there, so DeLaCerda got a little special treatment and an extra view of her son. What the tech saw, and what the radiologist confirmed, wasn't good news for DeLaCerda and her new husband Gabe. Their baby, the first for the couple, was diagnosed with 1q4, a genetic condition that would likely take him before delivery. If he did make it to delivery, he would probably not make it through birth. If he beat those odds, he'd surely not live much longer [see Making Memories].

The DeLaCerdas were profoundly shaken, but they weren't alone. Following their referral to a perinatologist, they met with a genetics counselor and were referred to Angel Babies/Bebitos Angelitos, a perinatal hospice program that's part of Hinds Hospice in Fresno. From the first call through her subsequent pregnancies, the team from Angel Babies and Hinds Hospice provided support, guidance and love to the DeLaCerdas, just as they have for hundreds of other families.

Baby Watch

Angel Babies was born in 2002 in the heart of Hinds Hospice founder Nancy Hinds, RN. After dealing with adult hospice patients for more than 20 years, Hinds saw a need for similar care for families of critically ill babies.

"Mom and dad get news the child they're carrying isn't going to fulfill the dreams they have," Hinds said. "We can be there to help guide them, to fulfill as many dreams as can be, to make memories that will last a lifetime, even if the child can't. Our arms are open for them as theirs have been closed with nothing to hold."

Hinds set to work approaching hospitals, letting L&D nurses know there was a service available for women whose unborn children have a life-limiting diagnosis. She was met with sighs of relief.

"When Nancy Hinds came to me, I said 'thank you,'" said Mary Burke, RN,C, L&D nurse at Community Medical. "We want to give the women of our community loving, caring deliveries. It was very hard to see moms go through labor and delivery knowing their babies weren't going to make it, or with such disabilities that they'd only survive a short time. The Angel Babies program lets us help the moms and dads, then hand off that care to the people at Hinds Hospice. It's really a collaborative effort between the nurses, doctors, hospitals and Hinds staff, and it helps families."

Angel Babies was originally set up for families like the DeLaCerdas, whose unborn children are diagnosed with a terminal condition, but it's become much more. Kathy Cromwell, LCSW, director of the program as well as Hinds Center for Grief and Loss, said Angel Babies really began around hospice care and progressed to include stillbirths and babies who die in utero.

"We help welcome the baby and help parents say goodbye," Cromwell said. "We talk with families about the various outcomes they may face. We support families with group therapy as well as individual therapy and bereavement services, and through subsequent pregnancies."

The program has served more than 1,600 families in Fresno, Madera and Merced counties since its inception. It offers those services free of charge and works with families from every hospital in the region. For many, the Hinds Hospice Home has provided a safe haven for little angels, where they either transition home to die or spend their last hours.

"This has been a tremendous gift," Hinds said. "So many generations never even talked about losing babies. To see what we're doing in helping others makes all the pain easier to bear."

Guardians of Angels

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