Mom Cori Salchert and her husband, Mark, are doing something few people have the strength to handle: They are opening their home and their hearts by adopting babies with life-limiting or terminal illnesses.
As a registered nurse and former perinatal bereavement specialist, Cori is particularly suited to the difficult task of caring for these “hospice babies,” as she calls them. After raising eight children of her own, the Sheboygan, Wis., resident and her husband reached out to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin’s treatment foster care program, which pairs families with infants and kids who have significant to severe behavioral or medical challenges, according to Sheboygan Press.
In August 2012, the program matched Cori and her husband with their first baby. “We received a call asking if we would be willing to take in a 2-week-old baby girl who was nameless and had no one to care for her,” Cori shared with Today Monday. “The baby’s prognosis was grim, as she was born without the right or left hemisphere of her brain, and doctors said there was no hope for her. I was told that she was in a vegetative state — unable to see or hear, and only responding to painful stimuli.”
Cori kissing one of her adopted infants. (Photo: Courtesy of Cori Salchert)
She and her husband took the baby home and named her Emmalynn. The baby lived for 50 days and was cuddled by every member of the Salchert family during her stay with them. Emmalynn died in Cori’s arms, while nestled into her robe for warmth and comfort. “She didn’t suffer, she wasn’t in pain, and she most certainly wasn’t alone,” Cori told Today. “It was painful initially. Gradually we were able to see the opportunity to hold her through this life and as she entered the next solely as a gift.”
After Cori and her family began to heal from the loss, they considered taking in another infant in a similar situation. In October 2014, the family brought home Charlie. The 4-month-old infant suffered from a type of brain damage that babies typically don’t survive past their second birthday. Charlie, who is still being cared for by the Salchert family, is on life support and has been resuscitated multiple times in the past year.
“The parents of both Emmalynn and Charlie were unable to deal with the situation after birth took place,” Cori told Yahoo Parenting. “There is no censure on my part. We’re open and willing to step up if parents have to step away because it’s too much to bear. And we do work towards adoption if that is the option we have.”
A touching moment between Cori’s husband, Mark, and one of their adopted babies. (Photo: Courtesy of Cori Salchert)
Having the support of her husband, Mark, and children has been essential to Cori. “While Mark might not do all the hands-on medical care, we couldn’t do this as a family without his 1,000 percent supportive actions and attitude,” Cori tells Yahoo Parenting. “He’d tell you this kind of deal isn’t him being brave. [But] I think he’s the bravest man ever!”
A nurse at Children’s Hospital with three of Cori’s daughters, Johanna, Mary Elisabeth (who is holding Charlie), and Charity. (Photo: Courtesy of Cori Salchert)
The Salcherts hope that by sharing their story they’ll raise awareness of how great it can be to foster and adopt children. “If people are moved with compassion for kiddos like these and others in foster care, then please contact your own local foster care agency, step up, and be there for a child who needs you,” she tells Yahoo Parenting.
The Salchert family. (Photo: Courtesy of Cori Salchert)
She adds: “Not everyone is called to do special needs like we do, but they can do something very special for a child who might not be as medically needy but still desires a family and people to love them.”
Even though caring for — and in some cases, losing – these infants can be emotionally grueling, Cori considers it a “gift” to be part of their lives. “We invest deeply, and we ache terribly when these kids die,” she told Today. “But our hearts are like stained-glass windows. Those windows are made of broken glass, which has been forged back together, and those windows are even stronger and more beautiful for having been broken.”
(Top photo: Courtesy of Cori Salchert)