Gracie McQuaid

Gracie Adelaide McQuaid was born on December 16, 2010, at three pounds, 15 ounces. A day normally filled with joy, Gracie’s birthday was filled with mixed emotions. As early as 16 weeks in the pregnancy, Brendan and Dina McQuaid knew their baby girl was going to have health complications. On their very first ultrasound, the doctors identified a fluid-filled cyst on the back of Gracie’s neck, a cystic hygroma, which often indicates developmental problems. Dina’s pregnancy was filled with ultrasounds and MRIs, each one turning up a new developmental anomaly or discovering that a previously revealed anomaly had cleared itself up. “The way the problems seemed to resolve themselves—it was truly a miracle. Even the doctors were surprised,” said Dina.

Despite the advanced screening available, doctors still couldn’t determine the extent of Gracie’s congenital defects until her birth. So on her birthday, tiny Gracie was born and quickly swept away for over three hours to begin the battery of tests, x-rays, and monitors that would keep her stable and determine her condition. “It was a very emotional experience for me to not know what my baby looked like, or even touch her, for so long,” said Dina. Gracie gradually put on weight and stabilized enough to remove her IV lines. “I was finally able to hold Gracie on December 23rd,” said Dina. “And Brendan got the present of getting to hold her on Christmas Day. From that point on, we were able to hold her and change her diapers, feed her through her feeding tube, take her temperature, and other small things you never knew you would appreciate so much.”

When all the tests were completed and the doctors had weighed in, the outlook for Gracie wasn’t good. She would constantly be against the odds. “Her quality of life, at best, would be 'very poor' and Brendan and I agreed we would always put Gracie's long term quality of life as top priority, regardless of our own needs to keep her with us,” said Dina. On January 11th, 2011, Gracie’s life support was removed. “The doctors told us she could be gone within a few hours or maybe even a few days. We immediately had family photos taken and prepared ourselves to say goodbye. But much to everyone’s surprise, she continued to thrive,” said Dina.

“About a week after her life support tubes were removed, we were approached by Hospice of the Valley about taking Gracie home. We were very hesitant,” said Brendan. “In the NICU, you’re just around the corner from the nurse in case something happens. We didn’t want to bring Gracie home and have to do it all on our own. But the Hospice of the Valley nurse told us that it would be important to spend this time as a family and reassured us that we would all have the support we needed, for Gracie and for each of us.”

Gracie came home on Friday, January 21st. Three days later, Gracie passed away peacefully in Dina’s arms, while Brendan caressed her. “The last thing she heard was her mommy and daddy saying they loved her,” said Dina.

“We’re so thankful for Hospice of the Valley helping us to make the transition home. Looking back, we wish we would have taken her home sooner,” added Brendan.

“For us, one of the greatest benefits of utilizing Hospice of the Valley was the support we received from the Community Grief and Counseling Center. My daughter Deziree has been meeting with Kristina Gatto every other week since Gracie’s passing. It has helped her significantly to learn to process her feelings and express those feelings. Eventually I, too, went to Kristina for counseling. I wasn’t going to, but I made a promise to Brendan that I would go at least once. I am so glad that I went,” said Dina.

Brendan, in his own way, has found ways to cope with the loss of Gracie. “I realized I would never be able to take Gracie to my family’s home in Ireland, so I collected clippings of her hair and fingernails and planned to bury it somewhere on my family farm. It so happened that we were planning a trip to Ireland in October, 2011 for my sister’s wedding.”

“Gracie is buried under this beautiful, old oak tree,” added Dina, “And when the acorns started falling, I had this idea to collect the acorns and plant that very same tree with Gracie’s hair and nail clippings in Ireland. We collected nearly 50 acorns and flew them to Ireland with us.”

This simple gesture of a tree planting has become a source of hope, remembrance, and solace for Brendan and Dina’s family on both sides of the ocean. “For my family in Ireland, it means a lot to have Gracie there with them. It gives them a way to feel connected and like they’re helping us,” said Brendan. “My dad and my two brothers are each nurturing these acorns for the next year to grow them into saplings. Next year, we’ll return to Ireland and plant the sapling on the farm with Gracie. As Gracie’s oak tree grows, we’ll remember Gracie and always have her with us, whether we’re at home in California or at home in Ireland.”

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Hospice of the Valley address_block 4850 Union Avenue address_block San Jose, California, 95124 address_block 1.408.559.5600 address_block Email: hospicevalley@sutterhealth.org
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