Eighteen-month-old Marleigh Gillmore is content to snuggle in her mother’s arms and play with her six older siblings.
A happy toddler, she took a bit longer to reach the normal milestones, such as crawling, rolling over and sitting up. She is working on learning to walk.
When Marleigh was born, Matthew and Jill Gillmore weren’t certain of the outcome. She was born 10 weeks prematurely and weighed just 3 pounds.
“I had three preemie births before and I knew she would be one, too, and so did our doctors, but there was no telling when I would go into labor or how to stop it,” said Jill. “I went into labor at 28 weeks and the hospital gave me meds to stop it and meds to help her lungs mature, but at 30 weeks my water broke and I ended up getting an infection so they had to deliver her.”
Marleigh spent two months in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, at Wheaten Franciscan, now Ascension Hospital, in Racine. She came home with a heart monitor and a year of plagiocephaly treatment due to her premature birth. Plagiocephaly is a flattening of one side of the head due to pressure on the bones of the skull in utero or after birth.
“She wore a DOC band (a custom cranial helmet), which is one of the lightest bands in the world. It was a scary time for us, but we saw the mighty hand of God sustaining us,” said Jill. “We traveled an hour away, twice a week for treatment.”
A lifelong struggleLife for a premature baby does not end in the NICU, but is a lifelong struggle, explained Jill, who serves District 18 as a Kenosha County Board supervisor. Though she and Matthew, who works for Riley Construction, had friends and family to help care for the other children and bring them meals and gasoline cards, many parents of premature infants do not have any support.
“When we got home from the hospital, we wanted to do something for others who are going through the premature journey,” she said. “We have our parents nearby and our church, Southport Baptist. A lot of families are here because of a job and, when something like this strikes, they don’t have anyone to help them. Last year, there were over 700 families in Kenosha dealing with premature infants and they are all outsourced to Racine or Milwaukee, where the babies are often in the NICU for two to eight months.”
Starting the ministryIn September 2015, Jill and Matthew began Marleigh’s Ministry, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to helping families dealing with premature births.
“We are in Bristol and we provide services all over the United States. One in 8 babies is born too soon in this country,” said Jill. “And, worldwide, there are 15 million babies born prematurely. Of those, 1 million will die. Prematurity is the No. 1 cause of death for infants. In Wisconsin, there are 6,500 babies born too soon each year.”
Thanks to fundraisers and private contributions, Marleigh’s Ministry purchased three iPads and two cameras for the NICU in Racine so parents can view their babies when they are not able to be at the hospital.
“Through a campaign, we were also able to purchase an ultrasound guided vein finder for the unit. The babies are so sick and have to be poked so much, but with this machine, they can get an IV in the first time because they can see the vein,” Jill explained. “Additionally, we send out care packages to new parents with information and resources, a New Testament, swaddle or blanket, knitted hats and jackets, water bottles, diapers, wipes, hand sanitizer, a scent heart that parents can wear and then place by their baby, so their scent is with them, and a poem.”
Marleigh’s Ministry held a fundraiser Nov. 4 at Buffalo Wild Wings to increase resources for more care packages and gas cards to help assuage driving expenses.
“We are always looking for help in growing this ministry so we can reach out to more families,” said Jill. “I can see the hand of God working in the people who have donated to this ministry.”
You can help* What: Marleigh’s Ministry
* Contact: Jill Gillmore
* Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Address: 14700 104th St., Kenosha, WI 53142
* Phone: 262-960-9145
* Website: Marleighsministry.org