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Grieving parents use painful story to reach out

Published: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Doug Oleson – doleson@shawmedia.com)
Jill and Brad Carldwell leaf through a family photo album. The couple credits family, friends and co-workers with helping them through their ordeal, providing them with hot meals when they returned from the hospital, as well as moral support.

Jill and Brad Caldwell of Sycamore were like most young couples. When Jill got pregnant, they wanted the whole world to know.

They even had the happy news posted on the marquee above the Sycamore State Theatre in downtown Sycamore, announcing they were expecting twin girls.

Unfortunately, their joy soon turned into something no parent should have to face. Twenty weeks into her pregnancy, Jill’s water broke.

“They don’t know why,” she said. “It just did.”

Because the girls were so premature, doctors gave them a 5 percent chance of survival. Gentry Faith was born Jan. 12, 2013, at Rush-Copley Hospital in Aurora; her sister, Presley Hope, was born two days later. Presley’s water hadn’t broken, but Jill had developed a blood infection in the hospital, forcing her to deliver Presley anyway.

Both babies took a single breath, then passed away.

“I didn’t want to open my eyes and meet them because they weren’t going to be around,” Jill said, tears welling up in her eyes. “I think if I knew they had a chance, it would have been easier.”

It wasn’t until two days later, after all efforts to save them had been exhausted, Brad said the couple was allowed to touch and hold their daughters for the first time.

“I think leaving the hospital empty-handed was the hardest part,” Jill said.

Since the couple found out they were having twins a few days before Christmas, they not only set up rooms for each one, but also purchased Christmas presents for them. Although family members moved the unwrapped presents to a room downstairs, Jill said she still feels something every time she passes their rooms.

“You still know it’s their room,” she said.

In their grief, the Caldwells came to a tough decision. They could either not talk about what had happened, or they could try to bring awareness to premature baby deaths.

“We just had to figure out how to deal with it, and do something positive,” Jill said.

The couple joined the March of Dimes’ annual March for Babies last year. This year, they agreed to be the event’s ambassador couple, meaning they agreed to make their painful story public.

“The Caldwells know the importance of raising awareness and funding for research and medical breakthroughs for the March of Dimes to continue their work, when all babies are born full-term and healthy,” MOD Division Director Jennifer Stark said.

The March of Dimes was originally founded in 1938 by then-U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to combat polio. It has since expanded to promote health for pregnant women and their babies.

As part of their duties, the Caldwells are helping promote theMarch to Help Babies, a three-mile walk held the last Saturday of every April. According to Stark, the walk is the MOD’s largest fundraiser and began nationally in 1970. It has been held in DeKalb County for 25 years.

Last year’s walk raised $62,000; this year’s goal is $67,000. Across the country, more than 1 million people will participate in 900 communities. Since it began, more than 7 million participants have raised $2.6 billion.

“If we had never lost our daughters, we probably wouldn’t be a a part of MOD,” Jill admitted. “I think you no longer fear death when you lose a child. I think it’s different for a dad because I had that bond with them. I know I don’t fear death anymore.”

Brad added that they talk about the girls all the time, and even have their urn on a table in the corner of their living room.

Despite what they’ve gone through, Brad, a Sycamore police officer, and Jill, who also works for the Sycamore Police Department, said they are not deterred from having children in the future.

“At first, we said no, but now if it happens, it happens,” Jill said, adding that the couple’s two bulldogs are their babies right now. “Hopefully, one day, we’ll have a good story to tell.”

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