A local support group brings comfort to those who have lost babies
By William K. Alcorn
Her grief over- whelming, Sherri Horvat couldn’t function.
“All I did was cry. I’d wake up crying,” she said after her daughter, Gianna Lynne, was stillborn on April 15, 2009.
A counselor told her women who best survive the loss of a child create something good from the tragedy.
Her pain unbearable, Sherri’s response was to organize a Candlelight Memorial to mark National Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
This year’s ceremony is Monday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on the Canfield Village Green. Candles will be lighted from 7 to 8 p.m., joining in the worldwide Wave of Light happening in all time zones.
Families that want to participate can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply show up. All are welcome, whether they have experienced a loss or want to support those who have, said Horvat of Canfield.
“The goal is to not only remember our babies lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancy and neonatal death, but to let others know that they are not alone and do not have to suffer this unimaginable tragedy in silence,” she said.
The ceremony is inherently sad, but everyone loves hearing their sweet babies’ names read aloud and lighting luminaries in their memory, she added.
“Gianna’s death gave me my passion, a burning, to help other people in the same situation. I’ve never before felt a drive like this to do something, except for my desire to be a mom,” she said.
She said Gianna has led her to women who literally saved her life.
“You’re just so sad. You cry all the time. You can’t sleep. You walk around like a zombie,” she added. “You’re looking for anything to help you heal.”
She said family and friends were supportive, but they have their own lives, and they don’t know what to say.
“My two cents are simply for the dads and family that don’t always know what to say,” said Gregg Horvat, Gianna’s father.
Sherri, a part-time employee for Rondinelli Tuxedo Co., and Gregg, senior web designer for Vance Wright Adams & Associates in Pittsburgh, also have a son, Jack, 13, and another daughter, Nicolena, 7.
“The women Sherri have met are amazing, as is she. The support they provide each other astounds me,” Gregg said. “I’m eternally grateful for the support and love she receives from everyone that has crossed paths with Gianna’s Light and Oct. 15.
“For those that haven’t experienced the loss of a child ... when you’re not sure what to say, a simple remark asking how the mother is doing or questions about the baby lost are always welcome. It’s a simple reminder that you remember our little ones along with us and makes us feel less alone,” Gregg said.
Monday’s memorial is not the only Gianna’s Light project.
Sherri and others started a local support group, and another, Mothering Our Angels, on Facebook.
“You are so deeply connected. They are my best friends. They are my sisters,” she said of the women she has met through the support groups.
Sherri also makes black ribbons with crystal hearts in her kitchen that she gives to local hospitals and to grieving families around the country and the world — more than 3,000 to date — for people to wear as an outward sign of their grief in lieu of wearing black as was done in the past to show mourning.
“I wanted a sign that said ‘My Baby Died: Please be nice to me.’ It is also a way to connect with other moms like me and give them something that lets people know they are grieving,” Sherri said.
She has also been trying to get access to local hospitals to talk to staff about what would help mothers with stillborn babies, including holding their babies and having photos taken.
Sherri has a memory box given her at the hospital containing things that touched Gianna — a hospital gown, a bracelet and a cast of her feet.
When she unfolded the gown she found stains. “They are precious because it is something from Gianna,” she said.
Photos are also important because they are proof their child existed, she added.
Recently, Sherri was accepted as a parent mentor at Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley via the Boardman hospital’s Parent Advisory Council.
She says Gianna’s Light activities are what she was meant to do.
“Sometimes when I think I’m not making a difference or can’t look at another story, I get a message from Gianna in the form of a family that needs help. She’s a pushy little angel. I say, ‘OK, OK.’”
“The nurses at St. Elizabeth Health Center took the pictures ... and took such good care of me. It was like every nurse that came into my room had special grief training,” she added.
An autopsy showed Gianna died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage caused by Sherri’s rare blood condition — alloimmune thrombocytopenia — which attacked her daughter’s blood thinning and causing the brain bleed.
The Horvats were not going to have more children because of Sherri’s condition, so they sold their baby stuff and were getting ready to sell their van when she got pregnant.
“The joy was overwhelming,” Sherri said.
“Oh boy,” Sherri said was the reaction of her physician, Dr. Laura Musser of the Center for Women in Canfield.
The baby, Elliana, which Sherri says means light in French, was born at 28 weeks, the same age Gianna was when she was stillborn.
Elliana, born July 13, 2010, had an intraventricular hemorrhage, the same as did Gianna. The 2-pound baby was quickly given two blood transfusions and was on a ventilator for only about 12 hours.
She was in the neonatal intensive-care unit for two months, but is now a typical 2-year-old.
“Elliana brought light back into our lives. She’s an amazing gift. And if Gianna hadn’t died, we wouldn’t have known what was going on and probably wouldn’t have saved Elliana,” Sherri said.