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The Volunteer Profile column often spotlights our women volunteers, but during the month of June, we are shifting the focus to an amazing group of men. These fathers and husbands have seen first-hand the effects of preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome, but instead of becoming passive observers, they have come to the forefront, volunteering their time, energy and skills.
Board of Directors Chairman Pat Dignan has been a huge supporter of the Preeclampsia Foundation throughout the years, including participating in the 2011 New Jersey Promise Walk and serving as co-chair of this year's Saving Grace gala in New York City.
"I was drawn to the Preeclampsia Foundation back in 2004 for information and understanding, several years after my first wife Donna died from the effects of severe preeclampsia complicated by HELLP Syndrome," Dignan explained. "The need for information, awareness and research about preeclampsia still remains. The Preeclampsia Foundation tries very hard to meet these growing needs, largely through fundraisers such as our annual Promise Walks, which allow us to meet our mission and work toward our goals," adding that he is thrilled to participate as the Saving Grace co-chair this year.
Volunteer Will Dale of Easton, Penn., understands that growing need for outreach and has become a vocal advocate for the Foundation's mission. Dale's wife Laura gave birth to their son, Brennan, five weeks early due to preeclampsia and experienced post-partum preeclampsia, resulting in stroke-like symptoms, persistent edema, and very high blood pressure. However, the experience had a profound effect on him.
"I know if there is any way that I can make a difference by helping save a life, I will do it and that is why I volunteer," explained Dale. "Her doctors never mentioned it... Even after the delivery of our son, there was no additional information given to us about her severe post-partum preeclampsia. I can't imagine losing Laura and it's my mission to help spread the message so that other dads and families don't go into this without the education and support they need."
Dale has become instrumental in helping his wife plan the Easton, Penn., Promise Walk. In addition, Dale ran the 2011 Walt Disney World Half Marathon with his wife to raise money to support preeclampsia awareness and education in memory of Joan Donnelly, a mother who recently lost her life to preeclampsia.
Jason Drews of Irvine, Calif., has also been personally impacted by preeclampsia, and is striving to make a difference through his support of the Orange County Promise Walk and all of their activities, as well as recently helping out with a Promise Walk video project for the Foundation. Drews' wife Meredith experienced preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome with the birth of their twins, Bridget and Elsie. In his own words, "I am a father of four but a parent of two. My girls, Bridget & Elsie, died an hour after they were born at 24 weeks gestation on October 30, 2007. Based on their size and weight, preeclampsia had begun raving Meredith's & Bridget & Elsie's bodies' weeks earlier."
At this year's Orange County Promise Walk, Drews gave a moving speech to participants, sharing, "In the 48 hours after their [the twins] death, we waited for each blood test waiting for Meredith to respond. The psychological trauma was extreme over these seemingly endless days, but I was lucky. Meredith survived. [But] It is a constant worry for me in regards to Meredith's ongoing health. The truth is as much as we know about preeclampsia we don't know enough. Preeclampsia was identified over 2000 years ago and is uniquely human. In my logical brain I believe when we really begin to understand the causes and effects of preeclampsia it could potentially give us further insight into a host of other diseases. What mysteries could be solved if we poured more support into research and the work of the Foundation?"
He also described how having the walk and participating in the work of the Foundation each year is therapeutic: "[It] allows my daughters and many others to have a voice that will never speak or can speak no more. I suppose it allows me the illusion of control when the truth is we all have far less control in our lives then we like to think. But what we do control is where preeclampsia goes from here. The dollars this walk will raise goes to research and awareness, so I encourage all of you to speak often to others of your experiences and continue to give and ask for support for the Foundation."
Volunteer Jeff Siegel has also been instrumental in his local Chicago area volunteer projects, including 2009 Saving Grace, two Promise Walks, and as the technology advisor to the national walk team. In 2004, Siegel's wife Jill almost lost her life to a severe case of HELLP syndrome. After a total of 98 days of hospitalization and rehabilitation, as well as 3 months of daily outpatient rehabilitation, Jill was finally released, only to still struggle with holding, feeding and carrying their infant daughter.
"Our experience with the disease was very painful," Siegel explained. "It greatly challenged my family financially, emotionally and physically. In fact, later we would be told by Jill’s neurologist that she was “the sickest person to leave this hospital alive.” However, in the end, we do feel very fortunate. Now we have a very healthy family and have experienced a great outpouring of support immediately from our family and friends, our religious community and ultimately from the Preeclampsia Foundation as well."
He went on to say how impressed he was from the beginning by Foundation volunteers' level of commitment and quality of work.
"This was inspiring and motivational to both Jill and I and [the Foundation] quickly became a community to which I was proud to associate myself and our family with," Siegel adds. "As well, I’m continually inspired by the work my wife does on behalf of the Foundation and continue to look for ways to help support her and her own healing efforts. The work also provides a natural platform to help spread messages of awareness and advocacy, which I believe is so sorely needed."