CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For many, the loss of a child can be unbearable, but one Charlotte couple has turned their pain into a way to celebrate their son’s life and it’s caught the attention of hundreds of other area moms.
“He looked like a healthy baby when he was first born, sweet face,” recalls Allison Parker looking through her son Owen’s photo book.
After a full-term, healthy pregnancy, Parker says Owen’s smiling face entered the world weighing 8 lbs., 7 oz. on February 23, 2014.
“Seeing his eyes, making eye contact for the first time, I will never forget that, his smell, his sweet cry,” recalls Parker.
But shortly after birth, Owen’s health took a dramatic turn. Doctors detected a heart murmur, which later turned out to be a very serious and rare heart defect called Shones Complex, a condition Parker says was undetectable while Owen was in the womb.
“At two weeks he had his first heart surgery, and at four weeks he had an open heart surgery,” says Parker.
Parker says she spent every moment she could by her son’s side, wrapping him in blankets, she brought from home and read to him.
“He loved looking at the pictures when he was awake and when he was asleep I knew that he could hear my voice and I wanted him to know that I was his mom and that I was there with him,” she says.
But after 43 days, the Parkers world came crashing down.
“On April 7, he passed away, and that was the hardest day of our lives.”
In the days to come, Parker says she watched as friends took to social media, posting pictures of their own babies and detailing their milestones. She says that’s when the idea to spread kindness in Owen’s memory was spawned.
“Starting on his first year of his life, we started random acts of kindness on the 23rd, and we took pictures and we posted them on Instagram and it was like, it was a special thing for us and it brought me a lot of joy and it felt like I was honoring his life in a way and parenting him in a way. That was a way I could parent him,” says Parker.
Then as his first birthday approached, Parker says she needed an outlet to channel her thoughts for what she knew would be a very emotional day.
“We weren’t planning a birthday party, like we would have, and I wanted to celebrate. And what better way to celebrate his birthday than to give books and blankets to babies in the hospital in similar situations?” says Parker.
Owen’s Birthday Project was born. For the first two years, the Parkers collected new or gently used books and blankets. They packaged them up, tied them with ribbon and then delivered them to the cardiac ICU at Egleston’s Children’s Hospital in Atlanta where Owen was treated. Parker says it’s a place where despite her circumstance, she was shown random acts of kindness.
“It’s a very isolating place, most babies are born healthy, but not all of them are, and you just feel very lonely and it just meant that people cared,” says Parker.
But this year, Parker reached out to other Charlotte moms in the M2M- Baby & Maternity Facebook group, and within days, she says she’s heard from more than 500 moms who all wanted to help.
“It’s been pretty amazing. I mean, I really just can’t believe the support. I like bringing awareness to parents who can’t bring their babies home and this just shows so much support there is for those families and for Owen. I think he would proud of this,” says Parker.
Parker says thanks to the outpouring of support, she believes she’ll already be able to put together more than 500 gift packages, giving Owen his biggest birthday party yet.
Parker says she’ll be collecting items through February, 18. Drop-off locations include:
Baby & Co.,
131 Providence Road Charlotte, NC 28207,
Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Free People at Atherton Mill,
Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
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Copyright 2016 WCNC