Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Coming Together for Nie Nie

If you have not seen or heard the story of the woman behind The Nie Nie Dialogues, please click on the link to her blog. She is a popular blogger who, along with her husband, was in a plane crash and both suffered severe burns and remain in critical condition. Her blog readers have come together and raised over $100,000 to help them (and their four young children).

This story touched me in particular because of my own online experience with a community of women coming together to help the family of a women we "met" on a message board WAY back in 1996. I posted about this awhile ago, but thought I'd repost it today. Anyone who thinks that there is no such thing as the kindness of strangers really needs to read this, and read the story of Nie Nie as well:

I first went online (via AOL) in 1994 when I was pregnant with my son. At that time, AOL was more of a content site than an access site, and was filled with message boards on every imaginable topic. Since I was pregnant, I gravitated to boards about that and childbirth, and continued to read and contribute to them while my son grew. One board I read from time to time was the Infertility board, only because I was interested in the process of IVF (as opposed to the process of "ah crap! forgot to use my diaphragm!").

There was a woman who posted on that board named Heather. She was 28, and she and her husband had been trying to get pregnant for eight years. She had lots of fibroid tumors but had finally been able to have successful surgery to remove them all and was thrilled to be pregnant. Because of the unusual nature of her surgery, Dr. Max Gomez did a story about her on the local NYC evening news, complete with the happy ending...she was going to have a baby.

We all followed Heather's progress on the board...she was SO exuberant and couldn't wait to have this baby. Finally, her husband posted that she was in labor and that he would come back to report everything. And then, nothing. A day passed, two days passed...nothing. One of the women from the board ultimately posted that Heather had a baby girl via C-section, but had hemhorraghed seriously and was in a coma. Eight days later, she passed away. We were all devestated...some of us had successfully given birth already (my son was a year old), but some were still pregnant and terrified.

As a group, we tried to think of things we could do for her husband and family. We decided to hold a "memorial service" for her online, in a chatroom. We figured we could get about 50 women to show up. I knew that some of the women were "crafty" (not me) and came up with the idea of each woman creating a piece of artwork in a 6x6 square that the crafty women could turn into quilt pieces. Then, they would assemble all the squares and we'd send the quilt to Heather's daughter.

I remembered that Max Gomez had interviewed Heather and thought he would want to know that she had passed away. He was shocked and saddened when I called with the news. Then, I told him about what we were going to do for her daughter. In 1996, online relationships were not as common as they are today. I knew that what we were planning was pretty amazing...50 women coming together to support the family of a person they had never met.

He asked if he and a camera crew could come to my house and film the online memorial as it took place. Since he was going to interview Heather's husband a few days later, I offered to send along a few of Lucas' things that he had outgrown. The news piece aired and CNN even did a short segment on it.

As with most of my stories, this one has an amazing ending. Heather's husband called to thank me and stayed in touch via email. When he received the completed quilt, he sent pictures of his little girl hugging it. He became very involved with a national infertility group and, when I last heard from him, had married the woman who heads the organization. His little girl had lost her mother, but gained a new blended family with a stepmom and three siblings who love her.

What's that saying about doors and windows?

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