The Gift of Time

Dawn Guidone’s eyes welled with tears as she slowly delivered the words. Emotion still overcomes her, seven years since the stillbirth of her daughter, Catherine.

“The Perinatal Hospice Program never let us forget how special Catherine was, how important she was to our family,” Ms. Guidone said. “The program was there for us.”

Offered by the Hospice Care Network, the Perinatal Hospice Program is dedicated to families of stillborn or very sick babies. The service fulfills a previously unmet need by tailoring a birth plan according to family wishes, counseling parents and siblings, providing comfort care for the baby, assisting with final arrangements, and providing ways to celebrate the baby, such as a photobook of memories. 

Those memories are primarily captured by Senior Dietitian Susan Sturgess, RD, the network’s resident amateur photographer. The Hospice Care Network then prepares and delivers a photobook to families as a keepsake. 

“The reactions [to the book] really run the gamut,” said Mary Gravina. As vice president of counseling and pediatric services at the Hospice Care Network, Ms. Gravina oversees the Perinatal Hospice Program. “What we have heard over and over again is that these photographs become the jewels. They become the treasures that remind [parents] their child was here. 

“So many of these families leave the hospital without a baby,” she continued. “Now they at least leave with a memory.”

Meeting a Need

The Perinatal Hospice Program “began almost by accident,” Ms. Gravina said, after a pregnant woman called Ms. Gravina to discuss bereavement services for her friend. During their extensive conversation, Ms. Gravina offered all kinds of support, even providing direction on how the caller could help her friend navigate through the grief. 

“At the end, she said, ‘Maybe you can help me,’” Ms. Gravina recounted. “She said, ‘I am six months pregnant with a baby who’s going to die and I don’t know how to tell my children.’ That’s literally how the program started.”

From these beginnings, the program continues to resonate with the countless families it has touched. While each family’s circumstances might be different, their experiences are similar.

“Everyone got a chance to come in and say goodbye [to Catherine]. For me, that means everything,” Ms. Guidone said. “I don’t think I would’ve made it this far if I didn’t have the assistance of a program like this.”

Find more news about health, wellness, medical discoveries and community programs from LIJ Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital in Look North.


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