Born of empathy, group comes to aid of bedridden moms-to-be

Born of empathy, group comes to aid of bedridden moms-to-be

Shiela Gray of Grand Junction, seated, is on medical bed rest at St. Mary’s Hospital because of her high-risk pregnancy. She is visited by Joseff and Marlena Diedrich, with the Acts of Grace Foundation. The Diedrichs started the organization after experiencing their own pregnancy complications.



After 25 days of mandatory medical bed rest inside the Labor and Delivery department at St. Mary’s Hospital, Shiela Gray welcomed a visit from Joseff and Marlena Diedrich, founders of the Acts of Grace Foundation.

Acts of Grace is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing simple acts of kindness and support to pregnant women on hospital bed rest. They bring flowers and small gifts, but mostly provide once-a-week companionship to expectant mothers. 

Gray, 34, of Grand Junction, is 28 weeks pregnant with her fourth child. Because of pre-eclampsia, HELLP Syndrome and high blood pressure, she has a high-risk pregnancy that requires 24-hour medical monitoring. She may spend up to another month in the hospital, she said.

Marlena and Gray talked about how hard antepartum bed rest can be, not only on a pregnant woman but also on the family that must make do without her.

Marlena, who spent 50 days in the antepartum unit at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver, shared some of her own experience with Gray.

“Sometimes it just feels like a jail,” Marlena said, while helping Gray’s 4-year-old son, Masen, look inside one of the “Busy Bee” bags she had brought to the family. The bags are filled with books, crayons, coloring pages and other items meant to prevent boredom for visiting children.

Mothers receive a bag filled with personal items, such as nail clippers, lip balm and other toiletries.

Gray said the hardest part of her stay has been being alone and missing her older children’s sports and school activities.

Gray said visits from the Acts of Grace Foundation made her day a little easier.

“It is nice to get to talk to different people. It’s nice to know there are caring people out there,” she said.

The Diedrichs have been visiting patients in St. Mary’s Hospital for more than a year. Their unique service has been a welcome addition to the Labor and Delivery floor, said Jaina Muhlestein, clinic nurse manager for Labor and Delivery and the Obstetric Emergency departments.

“They show a personal level of commitment and interest to this segment of the patient population,” she said, “They’re just genuine people who want to make a difference.”

The Diedrichs founded the Acts of Grace Foundation in 2007 on the Front Range after experiencing their own pregnancy complications while carrying twins.

It is still hard for Joe and Marlena, who now live in Grand Junction, to talk about their first pregnancy.

“They told us that baby B probably won’t live, but baby A could be saved,” Marlena recalled.

She was sent to Presbyterian/St. Luke’s, she said, because it provided a higher level of neonatal intensive care for babies. 

But, it was farther away from their Highlands Ranch home and business, making bed rest all the more difficult.

“The room was just ugly,” she said.

She was upset to leave her doctor and the hospital she had planned to deliver in.

Her only comfort, she said, was a soaking pool available to women on bed rest. The women in the pool shared stories and provided comfort for each other, becoming their own support system, she said.

Marlena learned that there were other women in much worse situations than hers. Some lived many miles away and their husbands could not visit. Others, perhaps, didn’t have families to help them at all.

“I thought, ‘Why is this not more known? This is a big deal,” she said.

The twins were delivered in September. The first daughter, Elle, arrived without complications. The second baby, Grace, was stillborn.

From their sadness, the idea for the Acts of Grace Foundation was formed as a way not only to honor the daughter they lost, but also to help other women in similar situations.

“I still felt so connected to this hospital and these women,” Marlena said, “I just knew we could do more.”

The Acts of Grace Foundation now serves seven hospitals in the state of Colorado and is working to expand to Utah.

The Diedrichs also mail care packages by request to women in hospitals all over the U.S.

They have served more than 6,000 women on hospital bed rest in the past nine years.

This September, the foundation opened the first “A Place of Grace” room at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s.

This home-like space inside the hospital is provided to women on bed rest and their families to be used for larger gatherings like baby showers or parties.

It has a television with movies, crafts, games and puzzles for families to enjoy. It also serves as a gathering place for women on antepartum bed rest to meet and socialize.

It is an idea that St. Mary’s Hospital may one day emulate, Muhlestein said.

“The idea has come up. Maybe with Acts of Grace support, we could make that work,” she said.

The Acts of Grace Foundation relies on volunteers and donations of money or goods to support their mission. Learn more at http://www.actsofgracefoundation.org.


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