On September 12, the Preeclampsia Foundation is bringing its Saving Grace Gala home after a decade of traveling the country. “Grace would have been 10 years old this year,” says Edina resident Jaime Nolan, so she asked the foundation, “Could we bring it back to Minneapolis?”
It was February 2004 when Nolan and her husband Joe were eagerly awaiting parenthood after 26 weeks of what seemed like a flawless pregnancy. That week, Nolan vomited and noticed her hands were swollen. She assumed this was a typical “pregnancy thing,” but visited her doctor to be safe, where she was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection (UTI) and told to stay on bed rest for the remainder of the week.
After a few days Nolan began to feel better. But, “it was Friday, February 20, and that evening, all of a sudden, I started throwing up and … I couldn’t stop,” Nolan recalls. “I called my girlfriend and she said, ‘You need to go to the hospital.’ ” Still thinking these were normal pregnancy symptoms, Nolan resisted the idea. But her friend persisted, “Have you ever heard of preeclampsia?”
Forty-eight hours later, Nolan’s entire body had swollen, her blood pressure spiked and doctors were performing an emergency Caesarian section. At 1 lb., 11 oz., little Grace was born on a Sunday. Nolan’s blood pressure and swelling worsened after delivery, but the following Friday, she was released from the hospital, while Grace stayed under the watchful eyes of her doctors. By Monday, Grace developed an infection: “She died March 2, and it was a leap year … so we had eight days [with her],” says Nolan.
“The morning after [Grace] died, I woke up and thought, ‘The purpose of her life is not going to end with her death,’ ” Nolan says, and within a month she discovered the Preeclampsia Foundation online.
Nolan believes part of the problem is that preeclampsia is not discussed enough because it supposedly affects only 3 to 5 percent of pregnancies. “But it’s really a lot higher than that,” she says. At the time of Nolan’s experience, this lack of awareness meant women were often misdiagnosed or the condition wasn’t detected early enough, and either the baby died or the mother died, or both.
Nolan and her husband thought, “If we could prevent one family from experiencing the grief we experienced, it would be worth it.” They contacted the Preeclampsia Foundation’s founder, Anne Garrett, and started Saving Grace, a fundraising event that includes a silent auction, live auction and dinner. The first event raised $50,000. “We were thrilled—it was more than we could ask for,” Nolan says. “I was done. I felt we impacted our local community and the foundation made some money,” but the foundation asked Nolan to consider making the event a traveling gala around the country.
For the past nine years, the Saving Grace Gala has helped the Preeclampsia Foundation fund vision grants for doctors doing research in the field of preeclampsia and hypertensive disorders in pregnancies, awarding $75,000 to $100,000 in grants each year.
The foundation has helped women like Elizabeth Hebl, a Prior Lake physician whose daughter lived for just 12 minutes after delivering at 22 weeks due to preeclampsia. Days later, Hebl’s headaches returned. “As a physician, I was unaware that I was not out of the woods after delivery,” Hebl says. But she found the Preeclampsia Foundation website and called her doctor immediately. “I thank [them] for their education.”
“Just looking at what was created out of this grief that we went through is incredible,” says Nolan. “It was just one of those things where you know you didn’t go through this for no reason.”
Visit preeclampsia.org/savinggrace for information about donating, sponsoring, providing an auction item or attending this year’s Saving Grace Gala. Proceeds help raise awareness and fund research.