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Topeka couple starts nonprofit after infant dies

Published on -6/12/2012, 2:33 PM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Three years ago, Topeka residents Megan and Willie Skaggs lost their son, Michael Joseph, 35 days after he was born.

Within a few months, they established MJ's Memories, a nonprofit organization that provides memory boxes and care packages for families who have experienced the death of a baby or have a baby undergoing treatment in the neonatal intensive units at Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center in Topeka or Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

"The reason we decided to start MJ's Memories was because we didn't want him to be forgotten," said Megan Skaggs, who works at Friends University.

Since October 2009, the couple has donated 695 care packages and memory boxes to the hospitals -- and is hoping to pass the 700 mark this summer with the help of volunteers.

MJ's Memories' second annual Volunteer Day is slated from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. June 23 at Crestview Community Center. Volunteers will sort items into packages and boxes and help assemble some gifts.

"The first year, we had 25 to 30 people, and we spent three hours making memory boxes," Willie Skaggs, an academic counselor for Topeka Unified School District 501 said, adding he and his wife are hoping at least 20 volunteers attend this year's event.

Michael Joseph, known as MJ, and his identical twin brother, William Glen, were born July 25, 2009. Will was a healthy baby, while MJ was born with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. CDH occurs when the diaphragm doesn't fully form, allowing the abdominal organs to enter the chest cavity and hinder lung and heart growth.

After his birth at The University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., MJ was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's Mercy Hospital, where he was placed on an artificial heart-lung machine and had surgery to repair the hole in his diaphragm.

MJ's condition worsened, and he died Aug. 29, 2009. Each year on that day, to honor their son's memory, the Skaggses deliver memory boxes and care packages to Children's Mercy and Stormont-Vail.

The memory boxes contain a motherhood charm; blanket knitted by her mother-in-law and Nevada resident Cathy Skaggs; card with a poem that holds a lock of the baby's hair; hand- and footprint set; paper seed heart, which can be planted in the parents' yard in memory of their child; broken heart pendant, half of which is kept by the parents while the other half is buried with the baby; and several other items.

Among the items in the care packages are a pink or blue tote bag; baby blanket; hat, socks and booties; a baby eye mask; name plaque; toiletry kit for the parents; deck of cards and crossword puzzle book; photo frame; and disposable camera.

MJ's Memories is a division of Project Sweet Peas, a nationwide nonprofit, volunteer organization that provides comfort to families with children in intensive care units and those who have experienced pregnancy and the loss of an infant.

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Information from: The Topeka Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com

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