“I felt like this just wasn’t enough. I wanted to make a difference.”
Those are the words of Laurie Van Damme, RN, BN, a charge nurse on her hospital’s labor and delivery unit who also fills the role of bereavement program coordinator.
She saw the need to do more than simply provide footprints and photos to families facing an unimaginable loss: the death of a baby. So, Van Damme sought to give parents more of an emotional connection to their baby. She invited them to hold their baby and have pictures taken. She produces a memorial DVD and scrapbook. Not only that, Van Damme’s relationship with the family doesn’t stop when they leave the hospital. She calls them at home to see how they are coping.
“Although dealing with perinatal bereavement can be a very emotionally challenging and exhausting part of my job, it is also the most rewarding,” explains Van Damme. “The experience of losing a child will be with those families forever, and the memories of those moments will be visited over many times in the months and years to come. That inspires me to give my best. I want those memories to be ones of care, compassion, empathy, respect – even love.”
Michelle Meere, Van Damme’s colleague, lauds the program. “The response from the families has been extraordinary, and parents have been truly touched by this addition to our bereavement program. Laurie has been giving 110 percent of herself to this worthy cause,” Meere says.
Van Damme meticulously educates other nurses, patients and members of the community on the bereavement process. She trains nurses about the needs of the families and has enlisted their help with the memorial photos and videos.
She has also created an educational brochure to prepare families for the difficult moments that can occur during the healing process and speaks on the topic. In 2007, she organized the hospital’s first annual Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Ceremony which will now occur every October. This year’s ceremony will incorporate a memorial garden where the names of the babies who’ve died in the hospital and surrounding community will be placed on tiles and pillars in remembrance.
Laurie Van Damme is a Clinical Nurse Coordinator at Brandon Regional Hospital in Brandon, Florida. She was a recipient of the 2008 Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award.
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