A Mother's Gratitude Goes Global - Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare

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Published on June 12, 2017

A Mother's Gratitude Goes Global

Jill Gillmore's Mission to Help Premature Infants Expands

It started with a gift card.

In 2015, when Jill and Matt Gillmore’s tiny baby girl Marleigh Ruth was born two and a half months early, she weighed just three pounds and fit in the palm of Matt’s hand. The family began a 39-day journey of care in Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare - All Saints’ Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), part of Ascension. Over those 39 days, they saw some milestones, some setbacks and stress through it all. To help, friends gave the couple a substantial gift card, a gesture Jill and Matt found deeply touching.

"Their genuine concern for us inspired us to give back in whatever way we could," Jill said.

That simple act of generosity gave the Gillmores a sense of hope and encouragement, and reminded them they weren’t alone in their long, uncertain journey, Jill said.

Gillmore Family

Soon afterward, other families with premature infants—in Wisconsin, across the country, and around the world—would experience that same sense of support and encouragement, as the Gillmores chose to channel the challenges of Marleigh’s premature birth into a nonprofit organization with an impassioned mission of helping families who struggle with the hardships of prematurity.

An Early Birth

When it became apparent their daughter would enter the world early, the Gillmores chose All Saints for their care. Although the hospital is 13 miles from their home near Pleasant Prairie, it offered expertise as well as familiarity—their oldest child was born at All Saints, and Jill’s mother worked in the Emergency Care Center for many years.

"From the very beginning, the staff was so gentle with us. Their care was impeccable," Jill said. "We’re forever grateful."

Marleigh GillmoreNothing can truly prepare a mother for a premature birth. The fear and uncertainty of the first minutes and the endless days and sleepless nights that follow are emotionally draining. And then there is the waiting. The desire to see, cuddle and feed one’s newborn baby is an innate, motherly desire that must be put on hold as the baby receives lifesaving care at the hands of others.

Marleigh had a heart murmur and struggled to maintain her body temperature. Her heart rate periodically dropped, and she had difficulty with bottle feeding. There were tubes, IVs, monitors and antibiotics. But through it all, Jill was by her side, arriving early in the morning and staying late into the night. Friends, family and church members cared for Jill and Matt’s six other children and provided meals and support.

"We’re so thankful for the way God provided for us," Jill said. "My heart hurt like it has never hurt before, but at the same time, I was grateful."

When Jill returned home to sleep, she was comforted by the knowledge that her baby girl was receiving the best care possible. Nurses such as Jen Grohs took photographs of Marleigh as they cared for her at night.

"Jen was our daughter’s guardian angel at night. I can never repay her for those moments she captured for me," Jill said. "The entire staff really went above and beyond, and it meant the world to us."

Nurses celebrated Marleigh’s milestones with Jill, from her first bath to the day her feeding tube was removed. Marleigh grew stronger and healthier as Mother’s Day and Memorial Day came and went. At times, it seemed her stay in the NICU was nearing an end, but challenges persisted.

"In the NICU, the baby writes the story," Grohs said. "Sometimes, babies decide they’re just not ready to leave quite yet."

As Father’s Day approached, Marleigh had made significant progress. And on day 39, she was ready to come home.

Supporting All Saints Foundation

Soon after returning home, Jill held fundraisers for the purchase of iPads for the NICU and an ultrasound guided vein finder.

The Gillmores recently established an endowment through All Saints Foundation for scholarships and continuing education for NICU staff. The endowment will enable staff to stay up-to-date with the latest technology and expertise, said Ann Schmidt, clinical manager of the NICU and Pediatrics Unit.

"Jill’s generosity and selfless kindness is awe-inspiring," she said. "She continues to be driven by the same energy, sincerity and kindness that she showed on day one. Her efforts are impacting countless people."

Grohs wholeheartedly agrees.

"Jill’s generosity is amazing. She’s so energetic and vibrant. She just shines," Grohs said. "She took a tough situation, and turned it into something amazing."

Marleigh’s Ministry

With an ongoing desire to help other families affected by prematurity, Jill created Marleigh’s Ministry, a nonprofit organization that provides care packages to NICU families across the country and beyond. Packed with diapers, wipes, water bottles, onesies, blankets, hats and gift cards, the care packages are designed to give families that same feeling of support and encouragement the Gillmores received at the beginning of their own NICU journey.

The ministry has provided more than 600 pounds of baby formula to premature infants and orphans in Haiti. It has donated angel gowns for families dealing with infant loss. And it will continue to grow through fundraisers and widespread support as it provides comfort to families near and far.

"Our hope is that we can continue to provide hope to others," Jill said. "It’s a community effort, and we have no intention of ever stopping."

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A Mother's Gratitude Goes Global