CaringBridge: Helping Patients Find Hope

Spending time in a hospital can be a miserable and isolating experience. But thanks to the free web service, CaringBridge, patients can raise their spirits and stay in contact with the people that care about them.

In 2003, Melissa O’Mara and her husband Dan received heartbreaking news: After receiving blood test results from his doctor, Dan had been diagnosed with lymphoma (SLL) and leukemia (CLL). In the coming years, the couple and their young children would have to be strong as they adjusted to their new reality.

Dan’s cancer had a serious impact on his health – he faced a barrage of chemotherapy treatments that left him weak and ill. In 2004, he received a bone marrow transplant that helped save his life, but resulted in serious side effects, such as seizures, pneumonia, and short-term memory loss. Dan’s bout with cancer has been a trying time for the family, but through it all, they’ve had a lifeline of support to keep them going: A web service called CaringBridge, which provides free websites to families dealing with illness, allowing them to post regular updates about Dan’s health online.

When the O’Maras traveled from their home in upstate New York to Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital for Dan’s treatment, they were isolated from their family and friends. But through their page on CaringBridge, they were able to stay constantly connected to the people that loved them.

“It was also cathartic for me, as I was able to process some of the emotion every time I provided one of those updates.”

“We posted lengthy updates at least daily, and we checked the guestbook multiple times a day to read the wonderful supportive comments and stories from friends and family,” said Melissa. “It was also cathartic for me, as I was able to process some of the emotion every time I provided one of those updates.”

Melissa even credits CaringBridge for aiding Dan’s recovery. “It helped him to know that people were praying for him and they loved him. They were paying attention and keeping him close,” she says.

The O’Maras are far from the first family to take advantage of CaringBridge’s wonderful resources. The organization, founded in 1997, has hosted nearly 75,000 unique sites, where individuals facing health crises can reach out for support from their communities. Over 11 million messages of love and hope from all around the world have been posted on CaringBridge pages, offering those in need the chance to engage with the world, even from the isolation of a hospital bed.

CaringBridge’s founder, Sona Mehring, created the first CaringBridge site after dealing with a health crisis of her own: A close friend had given birth to a premature baby, and both the mother and her one-pound daughter, Brigit, were seriously ill after the birth. Mehring, who worked for a web design consulting firm at the time, decided that the best way to keep her concerned friends updated on the family’s health was to create a website where she could post regular updates, and the community could respond with support and questions.

“When Brigit was born, CaringBridge was born,” says Mehring.

Sadly, the premature baby did not survive – but her brief life had inspired the creation of an organization that would help thousands of other people dealing with serious medical problems find solace and comfort.

“This simple service can literally save someone’s life because of its therapeutic value,” says Mehring.

As for the O’Mara family, Dan is doing much better these days, and his wife credits CaringBridge for helping both of them get through the roughest patches along his path to recovery. The link that CaringBridge provides to the outside world is “just as important for the caregiver as it is for the patient,” says Melissa. “CaringBridge eases the burden of communication, so that our friends and family know what to expect when they contact us.”

The site has served an even more essential role for Dan, who began having memory problems immediately after his transplant. As a result, the hundreds of detailed blog posts on their website became “his memory of the events,” giving him “a connection to what he went through,” says Melissa.

As the O’Maras and countless other families have found, CaringBridge serves an essential role in the community as a conduit of information and support. With a simple web interface that even a technophobe can use, the organization provides access to those in need to reach out to their loved ones, and in turn, receive comfort in their darkest hours. If someone you know is struggling with a medical problem, don’t let him suffer in silence: Send him a link to CaringBridge. For those willing to reach out and grab it, it’s a lifeline to the world.

To learn more about CaringBridge, visit their website.

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