Shayna Raphael has a distinct fear.
It’s that her daughter, Claire, will be forgotten.
In April, a new training room scheduled to open at the Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital emergency department — bearing Claire’s name, paid for by the family, and equipped with a high-tech CPR simulation device — will make that less likely.
“There’s nothing good about (Claire’s) death,” Shayna is quick to point out.
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“But if something could happen that’s going to prevent it for other children, I think that’s really important.”
The story begins with a parent’s worst nightmare.
On April 24, 2015, Claire was just shy of 11 months old. It was Shayna’s birthday.
Claire’s father, Justin, dropped the infant off at the family’s in-home childcare provider while Shayna planned to spend the day with the couple’s older daughter, Lily.
It was the last time the family saw Claire alive.
Claire passed away later that day as the result of a freak sleeping accident. Asphyxiation, from getting entangled in blankets and “re-breathing the same air, over and over again,” is how Shayna describes it.
“I was going to pick her up early,” Shayna recalls with clear anguish over what might have been. “I had taken the day off work, so I easily could have had her with me.”
By the time the family arrived at the hospital, Claire was gone. Shayna describes the hours that followed as “a blur.” She recalls being ushered into a back room at Mary Bridge and searching for answers that never seemed to come.
Amidst it all, one doctor proved to be the rock the Raphaels needed.
Dr. Ted Walkley, who recently retired after 40 years spent working at Mary Bridge, was medical director of the Mary Bridge ER at the time. Over the days, weeks and months that followed — even after his retirement — Walkley spent hours fielding the family’s questions and helping to piece together precisely what happened.
“He went above and beyond what you would expect from any doctor, let alone a retired doctor,” said Claire’s father, Justin Raphael, who did three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Army and now works for Microsoft.
“He definitely filled a void for us.”
As an example of that dedication, Shayna pointed to an email the doctor sent her on her last birthday to let her know that he was “thinking about us, and that (Claire) hadn’t been forgotten.”
He also kept a copy of Claire’s obituary in his office, says Shayna, who works as an educational consultant in area schools.
“She loved to be swung by her sister Lily at the park, chase our dog around the house, throw her food, and giggle when you blew on her face,” the obituary reads in part.
“Her family misses her sweet soul dearly.”
This relationship, between grieving parents and a responsive doctor — forged during the family’s darkest hour — helps explain what happened next. When the Raphaels eventually secured a settlement through a civil lawsuit, the family used most of the money for Lily’s college fund.
They also, with help from a match from Microsoft, donated $10,000 to Mary Bridge — with explicit direction that Walkley choose how to spend it.
“The civil suit was a struggle, because we wanted some justice done … but the thought of receiving money as a result of your child’s death was a very tough pill to swallow,” Shayna says. “So we decided that a big chunk of it would go into Lily’s college fund … and then the other money we donated to Mary Bridge.”
In looking back on the day Claire came into the ER, Walkley couldn’t help but marvel at the way his team responded during resuscitation attempts.
If there was a one-in-a-million chance Claire might survive, Mary Bridge gave it to her, Walkley believes.
So after a lengthy deliberation, Walkley decided that a state-of-the-art CPR training room, where ER staff could receive continuing education, build team chemistry and hone their skills using the latest simulation technology was a fitting way to honor the Raphaels’ daughter.
“We had really done everything,” Walkley says of attempts to save Claire’s life. “Those words, which I’ve used before, and in honesty, really offered them some solace.”
“I thought, ‘Well, let’s make sure we can say that to every child that comes into Mary Bridge.’”
Walkley says he was “humbled” by the gift and felt a weighty responsibility to honor Claire with it.
“It validated that we had done the right thing for the child and for the family, and not just the care of the child, but the care of the family afterward,” Walkley says.
“This had to be special. This had to be something different.”
For the Shayna and Justin, the result of their gift has exceeded expectations. They look forward to the opening of the room later this year, and plan on attending.
Shayna emailed me recently and included a video of her baby daughter.
“You never got to meet Claire,” the message read, “and I just wanted to give you a glimpse of who she was.”
In the video, Claire practices her wave and learns to say “momma.” It’s beautiful, and also heartbreaking, knowing what happened to her.
After watching it, and after meeting Claire’s family — still, nearly three years later, struggling to comprehend the unfathomable loss — there’s little question I will always remember Claire’s smile, the goofy faces she made and her unmistakable laugh.
Now, thanks to the CPR training equipment her parents helped pay for, hopefully others will always remember Claire Raphael, too.