Offering hope

ParentTOUCH program connects families

Kathy Cassady’s story started in September 1988 when she was pregnant with twins. During an ultrasound, her doctor found a lesion on one of the babies’ spines. The baby girl was born with mild spina bifida, a spinal cord birth defect, and came to Cincinnati Children’s because of other complications at birth.

“It started a six-month journey for us here in Newborn Intensive Care,” Cassady says. In the 23 years since, her daughter, Kristen, has had about 60 surgeries, ranging from half an hour to 15 hours each.

Now that her Kristen is about to go to graduate school and has overcome many of her medical issues, Cassady wonders what it would have been like to have someone by her daughter’s hospital bedside, reassuring her that everything was going to be all right.

“I would have done somersaults,” Cassady says.

At the time, though, she couldn’t see past the moment. That’s why two decades later, she returns to Cincinnati Children’s regularly as part of a volunteer program new to the hospital called ParentTOUCH, which offers bedside support from parent to parent.

“Just to be able to say, ‘I walked in your shoes. I understand what you’re going through, even though the situations may be different,’ ” Cassady says, is the reason she does it. “To give them some confidence, some kindness and some perspective that at some point, all of this will be resolved.”

Facing unknowns

Today, Michael and Kerrie Magdich are in the same place Cassady was years ago.

Their son, Alexander, was born in March, three weeks early and deprived of oxygen because his umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck.

He came to Cincinnati Children’s within an hour after birth so experts could treat him and assess potential brain damage.

“This is not what we planned,” says Kerrie Magdich, 31, a first-time mom.

“We still to this day do not know 100 percent if he’s going to be all right,” Michael adds. “They say it could take a couple of years to know how his brain develops.”

Restoring confidence

Despite their fears, Kerrie and Michael Magdich delight in their baby’s facial expressions and even his cries.

“I can remember looking at him in the delivery room saying, ‘He’s not crying. Why isn’t he crying?’ ” Kerrie says. “Now when I hear it, it’s the best thing. I marvel at it.”

Meeting Kathy Cassady is high on Kerrie’s list of good things that happened in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit.

“Kathy couldn’t have come at a better time,” Kerrie says. “I kept looking around thinking, ‘None of these nurses knows what I’m going through.’ About an hour later, she shows up.”

Cassady was just there to talk. She arrives with nothing more than a name and bed number, and she tries to help
in some way.

“When their baby is just a set of diagnoses and medical conditions, parents love to hear that their child is just that — a child,” Cassady says. “He’s going to have a future, and he’s going to cry, and he’s going to laugh. But you lose sight of that.”

ParentTOUCH volunteers reassure parents that they will make it through their challenges, no matter what they have to face.

“My next step is that he’ll sleep a full eight hours,” Kerrie says. “I can’t wait for potty training. Even if he does have some learning disabilities, I want to go through everything a parent is supposed to go through. I want to make it as normal as possible. I want the best for him.”

Cassady says getting families ready to face the next milestone is what ParentTOUCH volunteers aim for.

“I leave every conversation I have with parents saying: ‘I’ll be in again in a week or so, and I hope you’re not here,’ ” she says. “That’s of course what we live for. We celebrate when it’s time to go home and be a family.”

Watch online as ParentTOUCH volunteer Kathy Cassady connects with parents Kerrie and Michael Magdich.