At EasyStandard, we are proud to support women-run nonprofits through our EasyGiving program. By identifying and partnering with impactful organizations, we’re able to work together in making important strides in women’s healthcare, enterprise, and leadership. One of these partners is the Colette Louise Tisdahl Foundation.
After suffering a miscarriage with their first pregnancy in May 2017, Michelle Valiukenas and her husband, Mark Tisdahl, were elated to learn they were pregnant again in December 2017. But about halfway through that pregnancy, Michelle was hospitalized with preeclampsia — a pregnancy complication marked by seriously high blood pressure.
After three weeks on hospital bedrest, Michelle and Mark learned their baby wasn’t growing — preeclampsia can prevent adequate blood and oxygen from reaching the baby.
Michelle’s doctor determined a C-section would be necessary, and their daughter Colette Louise was born. She was beautiful, with blond hair and Michelle’s nose. Colette lived for 9 days, a tragically short time but time Michelle and Mark are grateful to have had.
To honor her memory and in hopes of helping other families have the most time with their own babies, they formed the Colette Louise Tisdahl Foundation.
Challenges you can’t plan for
It’s easy to understand how quickly medical expenses for extended hospital stays and specialized treatments add up. But for many families, time away from work, travel, hotel stays and supplemental childcare for existing children are out-of-reach expenses. Paying for these can make it harder — if not impossible — to also pay for groceries, utility bills, and mortgages or rent.
Her time in the hospital opened Michelle’s eyes to the fact that many parents aren’t able to take time off for bedrest or to spend time with new babies requiring stays in the neonatal intensive care unit.
“In the NICU, we were told by the medical pros — many times — that there are many parents who go back to work and save their paid time off for when baby comes home. Or, that people could come once a week because of the distance and the cost of commuting,” Michelle said. “That really resonated with me when I was able to go every single day.”
Having the means to stay on bedrest to “bake” as long as possible without worrying about losing pay or employment, she said, was what made it possible for her to give birth to, meet and spend those nine precious days with her daughter.
“I realized how lucky and blessed I was to be in that situation,” Michelle said.
And that realization is what drives her to help other families today.
Financial assistance for families
Since launching in 2018, the Colette Louise Tisdahl Foundation has provided more than $600,000 to 787 families in 40 states. On average, Michelle and her husband review between 10 and 15 applications each week.
Thanks to a generous donor who covers the organization’s operating costs, every dollar donated to the foundation goes directly to a family who has exhausted all other financial assistance programs through their hospital. In addition to providing transportation assistance, the foundation helps families in need pay for housing, utilities, childcare and other vital services.
Michelle said it’s important for the foundation to remain flexible in how it assists families who reach out.
“We’re really trying to look at it and be creative and thoughtful about what a family truly needs, even if it doesn’t seem like it fits into a standard category,” Michelle said.
Advocating for change
For the families who reach out, receiving financial assistance free of judgment and obligation to pay back can be a life changer. But Michelle, a former attorney, says institutional and legislative change is necessary for creating better outcomes for families across the board.
Along with a small-but-mighty army of volunteers and in conjunction with Mom Congress, a policy-focused mothers’ rights organization, Michelle schedules as many meetings as she can with clinics, hospitals and legislators about ways they can improve access to resources and create safety nets for families in the future.
“People are now armed with information, and I think that’s very important,” Michelle said.
Want to get involved?
Here are three ways you can contribute to the Colette Louise Tisdahl Foundation’s efforts:
- Donate to the foundation and share information about the organization’s mission in relevant social channels, with physicians and social workers, or with people who might benefit from its services.
- Write a guest blog about personal or professional experiences on topics related to pregnancy, parenting, maternal health, infant health or loss.
- Serve on the foundation’s advisory board. Contact Michelle for more information.