In July 2010, Martha and Paul were thrilled to learn they were pregnant and starting a family. A few weeks later, they discovered their new family would be growing by two, not one. Martha was pregnant with twins. Their identical twin girls were due in March 2011. The pregnancy was moving along as planned until November 2010. The Sharkey’s lives changed forever when Claire Josephine and Mary Gladys arrived over 16 weeks early on November 14, 2010.
Learning very quickly of the poor prognosis for babies born at 23 weeks of a 40 week gestation period, Martha and Paul entered the world of parenthood feeling extremely unprepared. They had no idea how to parent in a Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit. The tubes, the machines, the ventilator, and the meds were all foreign to these new parents. Not being able to hold your child when they are born except for their tiny hand through a small hole in their man-made womb is not natural. The fear, the unknown future, and the new world of medical terminology are all foreign.
You lose all control and feel helpless. When you become a parent, you expect certain things to happen. You never expect to have babies who weigh little more than 1 pound. Each and every moment is critical to their survival.
Martha and Paul quickly learned to trust in the excellent medical team at Abington Memorial Hospital. The neonatologists were very honest about the road before them. The doctors informed them that the girls were both critically ill and had a small chance of survival. It was devastating news to hear, but Martha and Paul were grateful for the honesty from the doctors.
Families who have traveled through a NICU can attest to the fact that it feels like a roller coaster. There are many highs, lows, twists, and turns. The Sharkeys experienced the roller coaster analogy intimately over their 103 journey in the Abington NICU.
On our third day in the NICU, we were informed that Claire had a devastating prognosis. Due to her traumatic birth, Claire suffered bilateral brain bleeds. We learned that Claire may not be able to walk, talk, or feed herself long term, if she was able to survive.
Eleven days after receiving Claire’s prognosis, Martha and Paul had to say good-bye to their baby, Mary. Due to an infection she suffered as a result of her prematurity, Mary was not able to recover and lost her fight on November 28, 2010, three days after Thanksgiving.
After the loss of their daughter, the Sharkeys persevered and continued to keep vigil by Claire’s isolette with an inspirational team of NICU nurses, doctors, and grandparents. During this period, one of Martha’s friends gave her a bracelet engraved with One Day at a Time. The Sharkeys used this phrase as their mantra as they watched Claire slowly learn how to breath without a respirator, gain weight, feed from a bottle, move out of an isolette, and gradually improve.
The Sharkeys would celebrate when Claire’s medical team would let them know “today is a good day” for Claire. During Claire’s stay in the NICU from November 2010 through February 2011, she experienced the full gamut of good and bad days. Eventually, Claire beat the odds and came home on February 25, 2011.Claire has come a long way since her traumatic birth and devastating prognosis. Claire will be 4 years old in November. She attends St. Paul’s Nursery School in Oreland, PA. She is enrolled in the Coyle School of Irish Dance in Oreland, PA, takes swim lessons at the Ambler YMCA, loves to sing, and is always making new friends. Claire is truly an inspiration to everyone she meets.
In memory of Mary and in honor of Claire, the Sharkeys founded Today is a Good Day in 2014. The mission of Today Is a Good Day is to provide personal, spiritual, and financial support to families of premature babies during their time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Through TODAY is a Good Day, the Sharkeys have provided One Day at a Time bracelets to the Abington NICU to offer parents. Paul and Martha also stress the importance of writing in a journal on a regular basis. They wrote in a journal every day to keep track of Claire’s good and bad days, notes from the doctors, and observations during their stay in the NICU. The journal provided a great outlet for emotions, information, and more. Therefore, the Sharkeys also provide journals for families traveling through the NICU.
They are currently working on gift certificates from local restaurants for parents to enjoy a night out to dinner.
It is important for parents to continue to have some sort of normalcy in their lives during the NICU journey. Going out to dinner during the nurse shift change or on a Saturday night is a good way to reconnect.
The Sharkeys also host regular parent events at the NICU to speak with parents about their journey. When possible, they bring Claire to give the parents hope for their premature child. The Sharkeys look forward to growing Today is a Good Day and partnering with other organizations in the future to provide helpful services to parents impacted by premature birth. These services include SEPTA passes, cleaning services, and more.