Fighting for life in the earliest stages

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In life, there are inevitable times that are tough, some tougher than others. For parents who have spent time in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) with their newborns, those tough life moments really do strike a chord—and that’s exactly why Today is a Good Day was created. Today is a Good Day is a local nonprofit providing personal and financial support to families during their NICU experience, which rings a personal bell for Martha and Paul Sharkey, who founded the organization.

In 2010, the Sharkey’s had their own experience in the NICU when they welcomed their identical twin girls at just 23 weeks and 5 days on Nov. 14 of that year. Their daughters were supposed to be due on March 11 of the following year.

“Claire weighed 1lb. 2oz, [and] Mary weighed 1lb. 4oz. Mary was with [us] only two weeks before passing away,” says Martha Sharkey. “Claire beat incredible odds and came home after 103 days in the NICU at Abington Hospital. Following [our] extended stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), [we] recognized a gap in care for parents and families navigating the NICU journey.”

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That realization is what fueled the creation of the nonprofit, and ever since the organization’s formation in honor of their daughter Claire and in memory of their daughter Mary, the Sharkeys have been helping to bridge that gap. Today is a Good Day’s mission is to provide personal and financial support for families who experience the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and over the past six years, Today is a Good Day has expanded from one hospital to 10 including Abington Jefferson Health, Crozer Chester Medical Center, Delaware County Memorial Hospital, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, Holy Redeemer Hospital, Virtua Hospital, and Children’s Wisconsin, in addition to the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House.

“Programming for hospital partners includes care packages for families, listening sessions with current families navigating the NICU journey, direct financial support grant programs for families in need, and an online community of support—the Greater Philadelphia NICU Miracle Parent Network. Today is a Good Day also sends care packages upon request across the country and internationally,” adds Sharkey. Those care packages can be purchased on Today is a Good Day’s official website.

One of Today is a Good Day’s most extensive and highlighted events is Pints for Preemies. The event, according to Sharkey, was originally held in 2015 at MaGerk’s in Fort Washington, but after a few years, the event outgrew the space and moved to the Flourtown Country Club to accommodate over 300 attendees.

“Due to COVID-19, we made the decision to take the event virtual this year. Funds raised would support the COVID-19 Response Fund Today is a Good Day created to support NICU families and healthcare workers on the frontlines during this difficult time,” says Sharkey. “Attendees received special pint glasses in the mail, [and] we gathered on Zoom for virtual trivia, several toasts, and remarks from a Neonatologist at Abington Hospital and Nurse Manager at Virtua Hospital. Over $35,000 was raised at the event. Since March, Today is a Good Day has invested over $53,000 across 14 hospital and organizational partners in supplies, food, and direct financial support.”

On top of Pints for Preemies successfully carrying out on the digital front, Today is a Good Day also started a partnership with KicKee Pants, an organization based out of in Bainbridge Island, Washington, that has donated over 1,700 of their products  to include in Today is a Good Day’s care packages.

KicKee Pants card. Provided

According to a release, along with other carefully selected and essential items in the care packages, the KicKee Pants donations will be delivered to eight Philadelphia-area hospitals that partner with Today is a Good Day, and also the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House. For families, the care packages provide relief and comfort as they navigate the NICU journey. This partnership was spearheaded by Kori Robino, a former NICU parent with a personal connection to KicKee Pants, who was looking to pay it forward.

“A year after my daughter Colette graduated from the NICU, my husband and I wanted to give back in some way,” said Robino in a statement. “We started the Colette Robino Holiday NICU Swaddle Drive and partnered with KicKee Pants, as their bamboo swaddles, untreated with chemicals, were the first to touch our newborn’s skin while in the NICU. Since we are both fighting passionately for a similar cause that is very personal to us, we decided to join forces to reach more families than ever before.”

For Today is a Good Day, reaching more families will be easier than ever this fall. The organization  announced that it will be launching a podcast series in September. The podcast will provide a source of information, education and especially catharsis for families who are experiencing time in the NICU.

Tony Lopes, SoftStix Productions LLC

“The podcast will serve as a resource for families currently navigating the NICU, including personal stories from families who have been there. Our initial series will include conversations about the importance of friendships in the NICU, establishing open communication with your NICU nurse, having a full-term baby in the NICU, love and loss in the NICU, mental health, and more,” says Sharkey.

There are also ways that Philadelphians can get involved and help Today is a Good Day. Throughout the current pandemic, the organization, like many others, has felt effects.

Oct. 19 will be The Ralph Schrager, MD Memorial Fund Golf Tournament. Every fall, the event is held to remember Dr. Ralph Schrager, a well-respected neonatologist and golf enthusiast who saved thousands of babies’ lives, including the Sharkeys, in the community for over three decades. At the event, two college scholarships will also be awarded to former premature babies who beat the odds early in life, and all proceeds will go directly to benefit the families and babies at the Abington Hospital NICU and Today is a Good Day. On top of the event, Philadelphians can also purchase a TIAGD mask on their official site, the merchandise is being sold as a fundraiser for the organization.

“Navigating the NICU journey before COVID-19 was already incredibly stressful and overwhelming. Adding the COVID-19 pandemic to the equation takes the NICU experience to an entirely new level,” says Sharkey. “Today is a Good Day has pivoted to offer virtual programming through their Facebook Group, the Greater Philadelphia NICU Miracle Network. Programming includes bi-weekly After Dark Coffee Conversation for local families to connect with each other, Virtual Listening Sessions for families currently navigating the NICU, and a monthly Dad’s group hosted by Today is a Good Day Founder, Paul Sharkey.

“There are many opportunities to support the mission of Today is a Good Day [as well]. We are currently planning our first-ever Virtual Family Brunch taking place on Nov. 8. Companies and organizations can host a Virtual Team Building Event weaving Bonding Squares for families with babies in the NICU, the bonding squares are intended to help NICU families bond with their babies through smell—one of the most developed senses in premature infants. One bonding square can be worn against the parent’s skin, and one can be left with the baby in the isolette. Each day, the squares can be swapped so that the baby has the parent’s scent and the parent can have the baby’s scent—it can be incredibly meaningful to take “a piece” of your baby home with you each day.”

TIAGD’s FaceBook Live toast. Provided

To learn more information on Today is a Good Day, visit todayisagoodday.org

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