The Journey of Love from Nurse to Foster Parent

March 29, 2024, Gilchrist Kids, Hospice Patient Stories

The Journey of Love from Nurse to Foster Parent

March is Child Life Month, a time to recognize the impact child life specialists have on hospitalized children, including those in hospice. The word hospice typically conjures images of adult patients- contemplating the idea of a child facing end-of-life care may seem unfathomable. Yet, there exists a profound need for this service among children, the reason Gilchrist Kids was established in 2010 and has evolved into one of the nation’s largest pediatric hospice programs serving families across nine counties in Maryland.

Gilchrist Kids understands that the challenges of caring for a child with a life-limiting illness can seem overwhelming—that coping with repeated hospitalizations and treatments for illness, injury, birth defects, or genetic disorders can take a toll on a family. With an interdisciplinary approach to care, Gilchrist ensures each child’s comfort and care while providing their family with the emotional and spiritual support they need during this most difficult time. The program strives to make the unimaginable a little easier to bear with an expert specialized team available round the clock, including physicians, nurses, chaplains, social workers, volunteers, and child life specialists.

Meet Sarah Wilen, a devoted nurse in the Pediatric unit at Sinai Hospital, and her husband, Josh. Their journey is as unique as it is inspiring. They have opened their hearts and home to foster one-year-old Maia, who is receiving hospice care at Gilchrist Kids. The Wilen family’s embrace of Maia’s journey is a heart-touching narrative of hope, resilience, and the boundless strength of a loving family.birt

A Precious Life in the Balance

Maia’s journey began when she was born at Sinai Hospital in January of 2023 with a genetic disorder that required constant medical attention. Unfortunately, her parents determined that they couldn’t provide her with the care she needed, and Maia eventually became a ward of Baltimore City. She spent the first one hundred days of her life in the hospital due to the difficulty in finding a suitable foster family because of her medical condition.

Working in the Pediatric unit, Sarah was no stranger to the complexities of medical care and couldn’t help but be moved by Maia’s situation. Sarah and Josh celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary one June evening with dinner at their favorite restaurant. Amidst the delicious cuisine, they engaged in an intimate conversation, expressing their appreciation for the life they’d built together and their two wonderful children. When Sarah mentioned her young patient to Josh that night, they both felt compelled to step in and provide a loving home for Maia not knowing what her life expectancy might be. “This was never on our radar. It was never anything we had ever planned to do. It just sort of fell in our lap. But you know, it’s probably the hardest and the best thing we’ve ever done so we don’t have any regrets,” Sarah reflects.

A Remarkable Decision

In the initial stages of their decision-making journey, Josh and Sarah actively sought guidance and encouragement from their close-knit circle of friends and family. Their first point of contact was their dear friend Kyla, who herself had experience adopting two children, making her invaluable in offering insights and support. With Kyla’s wholehearted backing, they then enlisted the help of their nanny, Lisa, whose exceptional assistance proved to be a lifeline in caring for Maia.

The moment of relief and joy arrived when their son and daughter embraced the idea of Maia becoming an integral part of their family. The unity and determination of the entire family, bolstered by their supportive network, solidified their commitment to providing Maia with a warm and nurturing home.

Becoming Maia’s foster parents wasn’t straightforward. Given her role as a hospital nurse, Sarah initially thought it might be a conflict of interest. However, they explored the possibility further and contacted a social worker. They managed to bring Maia into their loving home quickly, from the initial discussion in June to Maia joining their family in July. It was a challenging and unknown journey that they were willing to embark on together.

Navigating the Complexities

Maia’s genetic syndrome is rare, and there are no guidelines or scripts for her care. In the first few months at the Wilen’s home, Maia had over one hundred appointments ranging from doctors to physical and occupational therapists, an overwhelming amount for any parent. Maia’s eligibility in the Gilchrist Kids hospice program was crucial in providing needed support and resources. Sarah shares, “What’s challenging with Maia having 14 or 15 doctors is there’s not one person in charge. But Gilchrist is that for us. We have all of these people at Gilchrist that we can call who are willing to help us. Almost everything we’ve ever asked for; Gilchrist has been able to make happen. It’s been truly incredible. Unlike hospice for adults, Gilchrist Kids embraces concurrent care, enabling pediatric patients like Maia to pursue curative treatments alongside hospice services. The team at Gilchrist has helped Sarah and Josh navigate the intricacies of Maia’s care and connected them with the right professionals, ensuring her well-being is a top priority.

A Strong Support Network

Sinai Hospital– has also been a substantial source of support for both Maia and Sarah. In January of 2024, Maia celebrated her first birthday at Sinai, allowing friends, family, doctors, and nurses to come together and recognize the journey they had all been a part of. “Everyone at Sinai raised this baby to six months old.

The doctors, the nurses… she is where she is and who she is because of all of them. So, it was important to us that we should all be able to celebrate her birthday party at Sinai,” Sarah tells us.

A Remarkable Transformation

Sarah and Josh have witnessed Maia’s incredible transformation through their unstoppable dedication and the support of their extended network and Gilchrist Kids. Maia, who once lay motionless in a hospital bed, now crawls, laughs, and interacts with her new family. “Being able to love an individual that we didn’t create as a parent is the weirdest and also the most satisfying thing. I know what it is to love my own children and there’s no difference with Maia,” Josh says fondly. The lessons Sarah and Josh teach their children about empathy, selflessness, and love will undoubtedly have a lasting impact. Sarah and Josh’s story reminds us all that we have the power to change lives, and sometimes, it starts with a simple act of kindness and a willingness to embrace the unknown.

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