Mark and Cori Salchert, who already have eight biological children, adopt, care for and love “hospice babies” who have terminal or life-limiting diagnoses.
Cori, a registered nurse who saw many babies abandoned in hospitals by parents who weren’t able to deal with the diagnoses, couldn’t shake the compassion that burdened her heart. She wanted to help the babies live the best lives possible, no matter how short they may be.
Mark and Cori Salchert first took in Emmalynn in August 2012. She only lived 50 days, but Cori says she “lived more in 50 days than most people do in a lifetime.”
Emmalynn died in Cori’s arms as she sang “Jesus Loves Me.”
That wasn’t the first time Cori held a dying baby. As a nurse and a perinatal bereavement specialist, when parents would be too overwhelmed to hold their child’s failing body, Cori would comfort the babe in her arms as it breathed its last, so “no one had to die alone,” Cori told Leah Ulatowski of the Sheboygan Press.
Cori’s passion can be traced back to when her younger sister, Amie, contracted spinal meningitis as an infant. Amie was mentally and physically handicapped because of the disease, and lived in a children’s home for severely impaired kids like her. But when she was eleven, Amie wandered out through an unlocked door and into a pond on a nearby golf course, where she drowned. Cori’s heart ached knowing Amie probably didn’t understand why she couldn’t breathe and why no one was there to help her.
Cori struggled her whole life wondering where God was when Amie needed her most.
“In my adult years, I heard a song lyric: ‘It may be unfulfilled, it may be unrestored, but anything that’s shattered that’s laid before the Lord will not be unredeemed.'”
And redeem it He did, Cori says.
As an obstetrics nurse, she saw the need for improving hospital experiences for grieving parents. In a bittersweet kind of way, Cori loved helping these families through their loss, and she began the Hope After Loss Organization (HALO) in Sheboygan.
“We invest deeply, and we ache terribly when these kids die, but our hearts are like stained-glass windows,” Cori told Today.com. “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. ”
A Family Affair
After Emmalynn, the Salcherts helped foster child Jayden overcome his challenges, and he was adopted by his birth parents’ cousins. But now the house was more quiet than usual, and Mark and Cori Salchert were understandably heartbroken. Cori wasn’t sure she could handle any more hospice babies, but, seeing her gift and passion, Mark encouraged her to keep going.
So Mark and Cori brought their biological children together for permission in moving forward. The family answered with “a resounding yes.”
And then they met Charlie.
One-year-old Charlie has a neurological disorder which hinders his breathing and eating processes. Mark and Cori spent six weeks at a Milwaukee hospital learning Charlie’s equipment and how to care for him. Gripped with fear, Cori broke down sobbing at Charlie’s bedside. She was terrified a hesitation or wrong movie would further harm Charlie.
“God told me we’re going to kick this fear in the butt,” Cori said. “It’s okay to be afraid, but never let fear cripple your life.”
Charlie became a Salchert on December 18, 2015.
Each member of the Salchert family takes turns loving Charlie in their own way. For some it’s by helping with the hands-on daily care for Charlie, while for others it’s cuddling with him or going on walks together.
It’s All About Love
“We’re not making money here, but we are making a life,” said Cori. “And for him, the difference is that he will have been loved before he dies.”
Mark and Cori believe what they’re doing is much more sacred than simply taking care of babies.
“God is love and he loves this little boy,” said Mark Salchert. “And he allows us to love him and we get to keep a little bit of that.”
Certainly not everyone is called or even skilled to care for terminally-ill babies. But we are all called to give love and give life. It might be simply smiling as you walk through the grocery store, or dropping off a warm drink when you see on Facebook one of your friends is having a bad day. Maybe it’s caring for strangers in the hospital who may have no one else. Maybe it’s a card or a phone call. What can you do today to give love and give life?