A Conway family’s suffering following the loss of a child led to the creation of a perinatal bereavement support program that would support others who later faced the same tragedy.

It was the late Mike Smyers’ suggestion, the work of his family, and a partnership with Conway Regional Medical Center that brought about the Perinatal Bereavement Program in 2006.

The program continues to be supported by fundraising, much of which is generated at an upcoming event.

On Thursday, Oct. 27, from 7-9 p.m., Smyers’ wife and daughter, owner and manager of the Kitchen Store in Conway, will host the Kitchen Store Holiday Preview.

Jeanne Smyers, owner, and Tricia O’Connor, manager, said that each dollar spent at the store during the two-hour event will go directly to the program housed at Conway Regional.

The workings of the Perinatal Bereavement Program include personal and sometimes long-term guidance, from emotional support to the task of arranging a funeral.

“It’s extremely difficult for friends and family, as well as professional caregivers, to know what to say and do to comfort couples who have lost children,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor and her husband lost a child in 2005.

Lori Ross, director of Foundation and Marketing at Conway Regional, said that Mike Smyers approached her to let her know that the hospital “was doing great with clinical care, but you could do better with emotional things.”

Smyers’ wife, Jeanne Smyers, quoted her late husband, “If you’re going to complain, have something positive to offer to change it.”

The family and hospital have gone to great lengths to provide bereavement services, which have been an unfortunate necessity.

Ross said that at the hospital’s recent annual Walk to Remember memorial event, more than 50 babies were remembered.

When a woman or couple experiences the loss of an infant during early pregnancy, a stillbirth, or lose the child during the first few months, they are supported by a team of staff who Ross said have been trained in bereavement support.

The mother or family may participate in services such as memorial planning, patient education, baptism or blessings, access to the post-partum room where the mother or family may see the child, guidance in state mandated forms, follow-up care for at least one year with cards or office visits, referrals, sibling support, photographs, memory boxes, and counseling on planning a subsequent pregnancy.

Bereavement services are offered free of charge, though the continuation of the program depends on financial contributions from the community and the donation of memory boxes, books, and other keepsakes for families.

“There are many cases when people know that their child won’t be living after birth. For the rest, it is very shocking,” O’Connor said.

For more information about the Perinatal Bereavement Program, contact Kristi Schichtl, coordinator, at 513-5937, or by e-mail at kschichtl@conwayregional.org. 

“This is a legacy that Mike left behind. He’s making a difference even though he’s not here,” said Ross. “He’s allowed us to touch a lot of lives.”

The Kitchen Store is located at 704 Locust Ave. in downtown Conway.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by e-mail at courtney.spradlin@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)