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Olivia's Angels Perinatal Palliative Care Program helps families through loss of a newborn

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - 1/28/2022

Jan. 28—Olivia died a few hours after birth on Oct. 2, 1999.

Her parents Susan and Dan Bevevino wanted to honor their daughter's memory and legacy.

The couple helped establish Olivia's Angels Perinatal Palliative Care Program at Allegheny Health Network.

"When you face tragedy, people often say 'things happen for a reason,'" Dan Bevevino told AHN. "I don't view it that way. You create that reason — it's up to you to determine how something good can come from this experience."

They wanted to help other families cope with the traumatic loss of a newborn. The Bevevinos, of Avonmore, gave a monetary gift to the program.



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Dr. Marta Kolthoff, is a perinatologist specializing in reproductive genetics and is the lead physician of Olivia's Angels Perinatal Palliative Care Program. She has been an advocate for babies and their parents.

"I have had to deliver a lot of bad news," she said. "And I became aware of how much my patients were suffering. I learned along the way that we need to do better in our care in the whole field of prenatal death and bereavement.

We do not do an adequate enough job of caring for families."

Staff within the Olivia's Angels program are all officially trained in perinatal death and bereavement services, according to AHN. "This robust training, along with the compassionate clinicians which comprise the program, provide this critical support for families and takes the place of trained bereavement doulas at AHN," the hospital said.

She said having people trained in bereavement is essential.

The program at West Penn Hospital offers family-centered care for patients carrying a baby that will not live after birth due to a life-limiting diagnosis or abnormality, according to the hospital's website.

Grieving families have access to emotional, spiritual, social and symptom support. It brings together professionals from all areas of medicine, reproductive genetics, neonatology, nursing, bereavement and social work.

The goal is to have the resources these families need and that should be the standard of care, Kolthoff said.

She said with the advancements in technology, parents and fathers are bonding with their babies earlier and earlier. They find out the gender. Babies' faces are seen through a fetal ultrasound.

"When something goes wrong, there is huge trauma," she said. "When we have to tell a family there is no heartbeat, there is a need to address long-term consequences for patients and families. We need a way to honor these babies."

She said when someone dies, there are usually photos and a memorial or funeral service. People come by with food and send flowers.

"Those things are all part of the grieving process," Kolthoff said. "There are tangible things we have from that person. When a baby dies, it is more complex. It is untethered grief. It is so painful. It is intense and a huge loss and we need to treat it as such."

The couple donated photo equipment so parents can have pictures of their babies.

"I wanted Olivia's memory to live on," Susan Bevevino said. "I wanted the nurses there, a generation older, to know who Olivia was. That's why we decided to fund the Perinatal Palliative Care Program. We are very grateful to AHN for hanging in there with us until we found what we needed. We want our daughter's legacy to live on in this way. We want other people to benefit from her sacrifice."

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, or via Twitter .


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