The loss of a child serves as a catalyst for Merck volunteer efforts to help children with heart disease.
Merck scientist Julie Skinner describes herself as a private person. But when a heartbreaking tragedy shook her family, she knew that keeping quiet was no longer an option.
Julie’s third child, 1-month-old Noah, passed away in September 2015 after undergoing a heart transplant. Noah was born with a congenital heart condition that enlarges, thickens or stiffens the heart muscle. “My husband and I were so hopeful that the transplant would be the answer for Noah and our family,” says Julie. “But the new heart did not function properly and Noah passed away, leaving my family unbelievably devastated.”
After taking time off to be with her family and grieve, she came back to work where she happened upon a Merck article about how the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia, Pa., utilized Merck volunteers to help them expand their operations to help serve a greater number of families. The Ronald McDonald House offers temporary lodging and care for families while their children are in the hospital; the Philadelphia location is where Julie and her husband stayed while Noah was receiving care.
“I read the story and just knew I had to do something to help other families struggling with this terrible disease,” she remembers.
Julie contacted nonprofit organizations that help children with heart disease. She encouraged them to submit proposals for projects to the Merck SkillShare program, an online tool that connects nonprofits with Merck employees who want to donate their skills.
One of the organizations, the Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation (CCF), welcomed Julie’s invitation. “I assured them that should a Merck employee volunteer for their projects, our people are by far the best and would do a phenomenal job on whatever task was needed,” she recalls.
“The road to healing is a long one, but speaking out, volunteering and raising awareness have helped my family cope with an unimaginable loss and keep our son’s memory alive.”
“I assured them that should a Merck employee volunteer for their projects, our people are by far the best and would do a phenomenal job on whatever task was needed.”
After CCF submitted proposals, Julie reached out to her colleagues and friends to encourage them to volunteer. Before long, a Merck team led by Lisa Schafer, director of marketing with our insomnia franchise, rallied around Julie and CCF. “We began sharing our skills to help improve the organization’s marketing programs and awareness efforts, including guidance for their website and social media presence,” says Lisa. “CCF has very limited resources but plays an important role in the search for a cure and providing support for those affected by pediatric cardiomyopathy. We want to help advance that journey for all children, but especially in memory of Julie’s son.”
In a separate volunteer effort, Julie organized a walk in honor of Noah and to raise awareness of CCF and pediatric cardiomyopathy. (Merck provides each employee with the opportunity to take up to 40 hours of paid time each year to engage in a variety of volunteer opportunities that support eligible nonprofit organizations.) The team name, BeKindAlways4Noah, is based on the quote:
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”
Merck Colleagues at Noah’s Walk 2016
Julie says more than 100 people participated in the walk, including family, friends and co-workers. “This is a personal effort for me, but my Merck friends have put their whole hearts into this and helped my family keep Noah’s spirit glowing,” shares Julie. “The road to healing is a long one, but speaking out, volunteering and raising awareness have helped my family cope with an unimaginable loss and keep our son’s memory alive.”