“Today is a good day”: words that anyone with a loved one in the hospital longs to hear. It's also the name of a Flourtown-based non-profit.
“Today is a good day”: words that anyone with a loved one in the hospital longs to hear from the attending caregiver. Today Is a Good Day is also the name of a Flourtown-based non-profit dedicated to supporting families whose premature infants are in hospital neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs.
The organization will celebrate its success and “NICU grads” with a family brunch this Sunday, Nov. 12, at Normandy Farm in Blue Bell. The brunch will help to raise funds for 425 boxed Thanksgiving dinners, prepared by Chestnut Hill’s Fresh Market, that will be delivered later this month to families with infants in NICU wards in several Philadelphia-area hospitals.
Holidays in the NICU ward are especially difficult, said Martha Sharkey, founder and chief executive of Today Is a Good Day. Parents rarely feel able to leave their struggling newborns, let alone expend the time and energy to travel or to host family and friends at home. The Sharkeys’ own Thanksgiving in the NICU ward “was a lonely time,” she recalled.
“We knew it was a holiday, and we weren’t spending the holiday with our families – we were in the NICU. It was a very scary time for us, many hours being bedside” with their newborn twins, Sharkey said.
Sharkey’s girls were born at Abington Hospital 16 weeks early, each weighing barely one pound. Daughter Mary lived just two weeks. Her sister, Claire, continued to grow and thrive – she’s now a healthy 13-year-old – but was in the NICU for 103 days.
While Sharkey and her husband Paul were grateful for the care their daughters received, they were frustrated by “gaps in care for the parents.”
“The medical team does the most they can for the family, but the priority is the baby,” she said.
The stress of the experience inspired Sharkey, a former director of the Chestnut Hill Business Association, and her husband Paul to launch Today Is a Good Day and fill in some of those gaps for parents. Today, the group helps NICU parents to connect with one another, with assistance that ranges from direct financial support to care packages to words of encouragement from “NICU graduates.” A podcast series offers insights from parents, medical experts and others.
Today Is a Good Day now partners with a dozen NICU-equipped hospitals in the Philadelphia region, including Abington and Einstein near Chestnut Hill. Several other NICUs at Lehigh Valley, South Jersey and Delaware hospitals, plus three in Midwestern states, also participate.
The Sharkeys’ story resonated with Mandy Marion, a Wyndmoor resident who gave birth just 25 weeks into her pregnancy (a typical pregnancy is about 40 weeks). Daughter Rachel required three months in the NICU before she could go home.
“It was 110 days in Pennsylvania Hospital, with touch-and-go, life-or-death stuff the whole time,” Marion said.
Marion, co-director of Chestnut Hill Educational Services, found herself feeling isolated. She couldn’t talk to other parents, and medical staff couldn’t talk to her about other infants in the unit. She sensed other parents shared her fears and loneliness.
With these memories in mind, Marion began returning to the NICU every year on her daughter’s birthday, bringing small gifts for the NICU families there. “When you go through something so emotional, so hard, you want to give back,” she said. Rachel is now a 21-year-old college student.
“We went back every year on her birthday for about 15 years before I met Martha,” and learned Today Is a Good Day was serving the same mission, but on a larger scale. “When I saw that she had created this whole organization – a whole community – I just started volunteering with them.”
With their long relationship with Pennsylvania Hospital, Mandy and husband Chuck Marion helped Today Is a Good Day partner with the Center City institution.
Events like Sunday’s Family Brunch, as well as a “Miracle Mile” walk, golf outings and an annual gala dinner, help fund the group’s efforts.
The Family Brunch, in its seventh year, presents awards to outstanding volunteers, medical professionals and a “NICU Miracle” – a child who has defied the odds despite being born way ahead of schedule.
“It’s a beautiful morning,” Sharkey said, “filled with gratitude.”
Marion agreed. For her, the highlight of the brunch is the “Miracle March” – a parade of NICU grads who are now strong and healthy kids.
“It’s very emotional,” Marion admitted. “The first few years I went to it I cried and cried, and my daughter was already a teenager!”
For more information about Today Is a Good Day and its annual Family Brunch, visit todayisagoodday.org.