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Nonprofit helps those with infants in NICU

Angela Amoroso and her husband Drew Skinner operate Isabella’s Giraffe Club in honor of Isabella, their angelic daughter who left this earth as an infant. The organization continues to assist families with babies in a neonatal intensive care unit. (courtesy of Angela Amoroso)

Nonprofit helps those with infants in NICU

Nearly 15 years after the sudden loss of their baby girl, Angela Amoroso and her husband Drew Skinner continue helping other families in her name.

The couple started Isabella’s Giraffe Club two days after their daughter was born prematurely in 2004, to provide emotional and educational support for parents with infants in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Their daughter, Isabella, was born about 14 weeks early on Sept. 6, 2004. She weighed 1 pound, 11 ounces, and spent three months in the NICU at UCSD Medical Center before being cleared to go home.

“When we took her home, she was 6 pounds and it was right at the time of what would’ve been her normal due date and everything was looking really hunky-dory. There wasn’t any sign that there could be a problem up ahead,” said Amoroso, who is the executive director and founder of the Scripps Performing Arts Academy in Scripps Ranch.

Four days after they brought Isabella home, and two days before her due date, Amoroso was holding her as she and Skinner watched TV, when the unimaginable happened.

“She was sleeping on her back in my arms, and literally (she and her husband) had just kissed and we looked down at her and her color was changing,” Amoroso said.

They frantically called 911. An ambulance took Isabella to Scripps Memorial Hospital. She was then transferred to Children’s Hospital where she died 24 hours later.

“They did everything imaginable, but we had to let her go because they got all her organs working again but not her brain. So, she literally passed in my arms,” Amoroso explained.

Drew Skinner and Angela Amoroso at a Giraffe Club event. (courtesy of Angela Amoroso)

Because Isabella’s Giraffe Club was already in existence, the couple moved forward with their organization, amending it to also support families who have lost infants to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Sudden and Unexpected Death in Childhood (SUDC). The non-profit sponsors events and projects to maintain and improve the quality of care and caring provided to parents and families; strives to facilitate and enhance communication and mutual understanding of roles and relationships between families and healthcare workers; and offers bereavement programs and support groups for anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one.

Amoroso and Skinner crafted a four-session workshop called Good Grief To Go, which they say takes participants on a journey of healing, health and well-being where they will find life can be joyful again.

“The world expects the family to bounce back and go back to their lives, and it does take time and a lot of compassion, and people can say the darndest things at the darndest times,” Amoroso said. “Our workshop really supports the parents to be responsible for their grief journey without allowing what people say to affect them.”

Amoroso said part of the workshop is inspiring others to also be of service. She said one family that lost a child and went through the workshop is helping to revitalize Rolling Hills Park in Rancho Peñasquitos with a project called Sienna’s PlayGarden, which is expected to open this summer. She said another family committed to doing $1 million endowments “and they’re halfway there.”

Amoroso said they are in the process of getting their Good Grief To Go workshop online, so it can reach people throughout the U.S. and the world.

Isabella’s Giraffe Club also hosts a dinner once a month for parents who have babies in the NICU. They bring in an Italian dinner from Pizza Nova to the family room at the Jacobs Medical Center at UCSD.

Through their non-profit, Amoroso and Skinner also give parents pointers on how to thrive in the NICU, including creating a relationship with the hospital staff even though it’s under the most stressful circumstances.

Amoroso and Skinner have helped hundreds of families through their organization and remain committed to doing so.

“We had some incredible support and because of that we just said we were going to commit our lives to returning all that love,” Amoroso said. “We now call SIDS not sudden death but sudden love, because of how the world responded to us.”

Visit isabellasgiraffeclub.org.

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