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Brashinger: Fundraiser set in memory of Frankfort Square couple’s stillborn son

Emily Smith Frankfort Square resident Evilena's Red Dresser II Frankfort consignment shop supporting an April 26 run/walk fundraiser.  |

Emily Smith, a Frankfort Square resident, at Evilena's Red Dresser II in Frankfort, a consignment shop supporting an April 26 run/walk fundraiser. | Ginger Brashinger/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 24, 2014 6:10AM



Frankfort Square residents Emily and Frank Smith suffered a devastating loss in April 2013. Their son, Stephen, healthy by all medical accounts, did not survive to full term, leaving the Smiths with a void and unanswered questions.

But rather than turn their grief into resentment and despair, the couple, both in their early 30s, decided to help others who had or may have the same experience.

“We wanted (to do) something to help people channel their grief,” Emily said.

With the help of friends and family, they have planned a fundraiser to benefit First Candle, a “leading national nonprofit organization dedicated to safe pregnancies and the survival of babies throughout the first years of life,” according to its website, www.firstcandle.org.

The first annual Stephen Smith Family Fun Run 2014, a 5K walk/run, will be held April 26, nearly a year after the loss of the Smiths’ son.

The Smiths’ story is a difficult one, but they feel it’s important to tell about their experience to help others.

Emily said she was seven months into an “effortless” pregnancy when she felt ill and told her husband she thought the baby was less active than usual. Frank insisted that she call their doctor, and they were told to go to the hospital immediately.

A checkup at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox showed that Emily had a urinary tract infection, but additional tests showed that the baby was doing well and had no medical problems.

Emily remained in the hospital overnight and about noon the next day a heart monitor, used to track the fetal heartbeat, was removed because the baby had begun to move so often it was difficult to monitor his heartbeat. That was welcome news, but Emily said when the monitor was reattached three hours later, nurses were unable to find a heartbeat.

The unthinkable had happened. About an hour after an ultrasound was taken, the Smiths learned that their baby had inexplicably died.

Emily had to make a final decision — whether to have a surgical or natural birth.

“I just wanted to deliver the baby,” she said. “I thought that’s the one thing I can do as a mother.”

The Smiths said the care and support of the Silver Cross staff helped them with their grieving process.

The couple were able to spend time with their son. The hospital staff made a memorial book with photos of Stephen, copies of his hand and footprints and his hospital wrist bracelet to help the grieving parents with the first phase of their loss.

An autopsy was performed and, although it did not answer their questions or determine why Stephen was stillborn, it did rule out medical or genetic conditions that might be a concern for future pregnancies, Emily said.

In the days and weeks that followed, she began researching stillborn births and learned that not all parents are given the same opportunities that she and her husband experienced at Silver Cross — acts of kindness that validated their child’s life and medical procedures that attempted to answer questions.

Emily said she noticed that most sites mentioned First Candle as an organization that helped grieving families, including advocating for an autopsy.

During a session with a grief counselor, the couple were “challenged” to find a way to use their grief for good. Emily said she combined one of her favorite pastimes with the Smiths’ desire to help others.

“I’m a runner. It got my mind thinking we’ve got to do this,” she said.

With the help of their friend, Andrea Regan, the Smiths planned and scheduled a 5K run/walk to memorialize Stephen and raise money for First Candle. The 3.1-mile event will take place on a route that the Smiths walked frequently during the pregnancy, a place they envisioned bringing their child, Emily said.

She said the names of other children who have died will be written in sidewalk chalk along the route in memory of them.

Registration for the Stephen Smith Family Fun Run will be at 8 a.m. April 26 at Hilda Walker Intermediate School, 19900 80th Ave., Tinley Park. The pre-registration cost is $25 per person, $15 for children 17 and younger. Children in strollers are free. The cost is $30 on race day.

Those who register by April 3 will receive an event T-shirt. For more information or to register, go to www.facebook.com/stephensmithrun or call Emily Smith at (708) 439-0703.

Also, Evilena’s Red Dresser, 59 Bankview Drive, Frankfort, will hold a $1 sale during store hours March 29. Proceeds from the sale of all merchandise marked $1 will benefit the Stephen Smith Family Fun Run. For more information, visit www.evilenasreddresser.com.



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