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Helping to Build a Hospital for the Next Generation

Patient and Mount Sinai volunteer Jen Crespi

A little more than a year ago, I got a call from Louise Glaude, a nurse-clinician at the Women’s and Infants Program at Mount Sinai. She asked me if I would consider a volunteer position at the hospital. The Women’s and Infants Program was expanding, and they needed input from patients as they developed and finalized the design of the new floors. I interrupted her before she could finish describing the kind of work that would be involved. “Louise – I’d do anything for Mount Sinai.”

jen crespi and family

 Jen Crespi with daughter Daniela and son Matthew.

My husband and I first came to Mount Sinai on what was, for both of us, the worst day of our lives. It was March 13, 2003, and we had just been informed, by an obstetrician at another Toronto hospital, that there was something terribly wrong with the baby we were expecting.

The only place that could take care of us, we were told, was Mount Sinai. So we made our way across the city to the Special Pregnancy Program in the OPG building, and it was there we met Louise. She was the nurse who took care of us that awful day, and for many days afterwards.

It turned out that our little boy, who we named Nathaniel, was severely afflicted with Down Syndrome. He was not expected to live much longer, and would almost certainly be stillborn. But Nathaniel surprised us all by living for another month.

Every few days, we came back to the hospital for an ultrasound that would tell us if his heart was still beating. Louise made sure that she was the nurse who saw us each time. She understood the mixture of hope and dread that we felt as we waited to hear his heartbeat – hope that he would be alive, and dread at the prospect of our ordeal continuing.

On April 8 she held my hand and told us that Nathaniel had died, then took us to 7 South, where our baby was born the next morning. He was baptized by Betty Lynch Powers, one of the chaplains here, and the volunteers from the hospital auxiliary gave us a set of clothes for him, as well as a memory box for our pictures and other mementoes. That memory box is my most treasured possession.

SARS was at its height that spring, and so the doctors, nurses, social workers and chaplain who took care of us were working under the most appalling conditions. But it never showed. We were treated with compassion, sensitivity and respect. And we were given the strength to hope, and the strength to persevere.

In the fall of 2004 we were pregnant again, but lost our baby in an early miscarriage. We were crushed – we wondered if we would ever be able to have a healthy baby – but the doctors we saw, John Kingdom and Wendy Whittle, were so reassuring. So we tried again.

On August 17, 2004, our son Matthew was born, and although he arrived a little over a month early, he was healthy and perfect in every way. He was joined by a sister, Daniela, on March 3, 2007.

Both pregnancies were complicated ones – at least to me they were! – though Dr. Whittle managed my hypertension and my anxiety with a mixture of unflappable calm, warm good humour, and respect for my concerns. My gratitude to my beloved Dr. Wendy cannot easily be expressed in words.

So to return to my conversation with Louise last summer: I would do anything for Mount Sinai. Claudio and I have two beautiful children because of this hospital and the people who work here. We are not wealthy people, and so cannot offer generous endowments as others have done. But we do have time – and I for one have been happy to play a very small part in the expansion of the Women’s and Infants' Program.

My little family is now complete, so I don’t expect to benefit personally from the changes that are now being made to the Women’s and Infants Program. But I have every hope that my grandchildren will be born in this hospital one day – and that the work we have done, with this expansion, will benefit generations yet to come.

Jen Crespi is a member of the Renew Sinai Patient Advisory Committee.