To Mark Baby Brighid’s 20th Birthday, a Visit to Birthplace of CaringBridge

In the spring of 1997, JoAnn Hardegger and Darrin Swanson were overwhelmed with joy when they learned they were expecting a child. Just 9 months prior, the couple lost their son, Gabriel, during JoAnn’s fourth month of pregnancy.

JoAnn, a nurse at United Hospital in St. Paul, MN, and Darrin were determined to keep JoAnn as physically and emotionally healthy as possible throughout her second pregnancy.

Mom Diagnosed With HELLP Syndrome

But during her 23rd week of pregnancy, JoAnn began experiencing shortness of breath. Her coworkers encouraged her to go to the hospital, where doctors eventually diagnosed her with HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening liver disorder that is thought to be a type of severe preeclampsia (high blood pressure).

It was then that doctors advised JoAnn she would need to remain inpatient and on bed rest throughout the remainder of her pregnancy to ensure the health and well-being of her unborn child.

Baby Brighid Born at 24 Weeks

However, a few days later, JoAnn’s condition took a turn for the worse, and she needed to deliver her daughter.

On June 7, 1997, just shy of 24 weeks, Brighid was born. Immediately after her birth, Brighid was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Minnesota where she was intubated and placed on a ventilator to help her breathe.

Hopeful for Positive Outcome

Although JoAnn and Darrin were told that Brighid faced several long-term health conditions, the couple remained hopeful that their daughter would experience the best outcome.

Due to her risk for seizure activity and high blood pressure, JoAnn was unable to see Brighid. Darrin spent the majority of his time running back and forth between her room and the NICU.

‘What Can I Do to Help?’

Sona Mehring, a close friend of the family, asked if there was anything she could do to help the family. Darrin asked her to make phone calls to family and friends with updates on the condition of JoAnn and Brighid.

This inspired Sona’s development of a website meant to streamline communication between the family and close loved ones.

Birthplace of CaringBridge

A few days after Brighid’s birth, doctors discovered that she had developed a condition called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), an inflammatory bowel disease, that required emergency surgery.

Despite the efforts of Brighid’s dedicated care team, she passed away. Although her life was short, just 9 days, Brighid’s legacy and memory live on through the website during her time at Children’s.

Evolution of CaringBridge

CaringBridge is a nonprofit social network dedicated to helping family and friends communicate with and support loved ones during a health journey. Anyone, anywhere, can create a free personal website to easily share updates and receive the love and strength they need from their friends and family during an illness or injury.

It has evolved as a place for healing and comfort people as loved ones write messages of encouragement for those going through tough times and battling life’s unknowns.

Marking Brighid’s 20th Birthday

On June 7, 2017, what would have  been  Brighid’s 20th birthday, JoAnn joined Sona, CaringBridge CEO Liwanag Ojala and longtime team member Kelly Espy on a visit to Children’s St. Paul.

The group delivered infant and adult-size blankets hand-crafted by CaringBridge team members, as well as personal-care products for families with babies in the NICU.

A Heartfelt Experience

Accepting the blankets and leading a tour of the newly remodeled NICU at Children’s St. Paul were Children’s team members including: Alice Chernich, Senior Director Neonatal Services; Joy Johnson-Lind, Senior Director, Child and Family Services; Karen Martin, Patient Care Manager; and  Matt Magers, Major Gift Officer.

Special guests included Kathy Geragi, Assistant Nurse Manager today, and a nurse on duty at Children’s St. Paul when Brighid was a patient, and Dr. Erik Hagen, Associate Director of Neonatal Medicine at Children’s St. Paul.

It was a touching experience for JoAnn, and a heartfelt way to honor Children’s Minnesota as the birthplace of CaringBridge.

Portions of this article were written by Rachel Patterson of the Children’s Minnesota team for the Children’s Stories section of its website. The article is republished with permission of Children’s Minnesota.

Caption for Main Photo: JoAnn Hardegger, center, mom of Baby Brighid, for whom CaringBridge is named, visits the NICU at Children’s Minnesota, on what would have been her daughter’s 20th birthday. Nurse Kathy Geragi, left, who was on duty in 1997, when Brighid was a patient, and CaringBridge founder Sona Mehring, look at an incubator.

  • Janet Haisman

    My husband’s best friend’s wife used this site when her husband battled lung cancer and the removal of one of his lungs. It was amazingly helpful to her and to all his friends to be able to communicate updates on his condition and good wishes for his health. We continue to use this site to keep up with one of our dear church friends. God bless you, Sona, for having started this wonderful mission for others. May you enjoy your retirement, and may the good work continue under your new leaders.