The foundation seeks to help families who have 'fragile babies.'
By SEAN BARRON
HUBBARD -- Nearly nine years ago, Ken and Vicki Pavalko lost their son Nathan, who lived to be only 40 days old.
To deal with their grief, honor Nathan and reach out to other Mahoning Valley parents who have lost infants to any condition under the umbrella of fragile babies (this is not a syndrome), the Struthers couple started the Touched by Nathan Foundation in April 1999. Last week, the foundation received a financial boost when two Hubbard dentists presented Pavalko with a check for more than 4,700.
Nathan was born with triploid, a rare condition that caused him to have an extra set of 23 chromosomes. Nathan died Dec. 13, 1997, his father said. Pavalko, a network engineering consultant and owner of Absolute Consulting of Struthers, defined fragile babies as those who suffer from something that's unique and life-threatening.
There to comfort
The main focus of Touched by Nathan is to offer emotional and material support to such families who are suffering through the birth of a baby who died or is fragile. The foundation also provides education to caregivers, families and the community; volunteers assemble memory boxes for parents dealing with grief and offer comfort and fellowship, Pavalko noted.
Some families with a fragile baby also struggle financially and in other ways, so among the items the foundation makes available are food vouchers, special clothing, baby formula and diapers, phone and gasoline cards and stethoscopes, Pavalko explained. Touched by Nathan also helps with transportation to hospitals and funeral expenses, and has conducted fundraisers, he continued.
"We helped one family with a 700 electric bill," Pavalko said.
To qualify for assistance, Pavalko noted, the family needs to have an infant with a life-threatening condition. The foundation also will help families with premature babies who are in that situation, he added.
Helping the foundation financially were Drs. Rudy and Mark Braydich of Hubbard, who recently donated 4,706 as participants in the Smiles for Life program. Each year, the program chooses a local children's charity and donates half of the proceeds to that charity. This year's recipient was Touched by Nathan, Mark Braydich said.
"We try to focus on children, and that's why we picked Touched by Nathan," he said.
Another component in dealing with a fragile baby is recognizing and handling grief, Pavalko pointed out. Getting absorbed in work and activities as a substitute for dealing with grief is a mistake, he continued.
"Grief is tough; it sneaks up on you. It's important to understand the steps of grief and make sure you go through each and every step. Don't shut it out," Pavalko advised.
For those trying to help families with fragile babies, there are important things to recognize. It's also key to know what to say and not say, he noted.
"It's better to listen instead of trying to heal," Pavalko said. "Offer love and understanding. Don't say, 'You can have another baby.' You can't fix it; there's not a day that goes by where you don't think of it."