Christy Sears will never forget that pivotal encounter at the Medical University of South Carolina last January.
As the Columbia woman waited for her six-week-old son to come out of heart surgery, she was struck by the look on the face of another mom in the waiting room whose child was in recovery.
I just remembered that mom that seemed so worn out, Sears said. I just wanted to reach out to her.
Those instincts sparked a conversation about the shared experiences and emotions of a not so enviable fraternity. And Sears had lots to reflect on.
Her second child, Carter, had been born with two ventricular defects in December 2011 and required corrective surgery shortly afterward. More than a year-and-a-half later, the youngster still has trouble tolerating food and maintaining his weight because of a condition known as DiGeorge syndrome.
While on numerous visits to Palmetto Health Childrens Hospital for Carters follow-up treatments, Sears said she and her husband, Roger, and their 3-year-old daughter Madeline had drawn lots of support from the hospitals Child Life staff. But at every visit, she would encounter more of those same worn faces and decided over time to use her own experiences to connect with them.
Seeing other moms and how tired and stressed they were, I wanted to reach out to them, she said. When youre in a rush to get your sick or injured child to the hospital, the last thing you think about is yourself and what you might need during your stay.
With that thinking in mind, Sears created Care Kits of personal items for families who have to make long or multiple trips to the hospital with their children. Sears recalls just how significant those basic things meant to her, so she went about gathering lotion, lip balm, deodorant, shampoo, shaving cream and other items.
Sometimes just the scent of real shampoo and a hot shower brings you a moment of normalcy, Sears said. I have a lot of support from my family, but a lot of the people that I would run into didnt.
Sears reached out to the Columbia Conference Center, which organized a drive with neighboring businesses to collect travel-sized products for the Care Kits. That drive was so successful that another one is being planned.
Sears collects and assembles the kits often with the help of family friends and co-workers at the Association of Realtors and delivers anywhere from 40 to 75 care bags, each containing a personal note to parents, to the hospital every few weeks. The Child Life Department keeps a supply of the kits on hand for families.
She said she especially likes to include small packages of chewing gum and mints in the kits. Groups of doctors have a habit of coming into your room early in the morning to speak with you before youve had a chance to get up.
Sears also created a website and blog for parents and caregivers taketimetakecare.com that draws from her own experiences and is designed to help others going through similar challenges.
Its a work in progress, Sears said. I try to go update it as I can and as I learn.
Carly Perry of the hospitals Child Life department said Sears contributions have been all the more meaningful because of her own journey.
I think she definitely has a unique perspective because shes lived it and knows what these parents are going through, Perry said. Its made a huge difference to our staff.
Sears said she also has benefited from the bond with the other moms and hopes her efforts will help others navigate the difficult times.
Moms really need to stop and take the time to take care of themselves, she said. When we returned home from my MUSC family I wanted to know what I could do to stay connected.
To donate items for the Care Kits, call the Palmetto Health Child Life office at (803) 434-4323.