Last night was a special one for me and Chris. Chris was named the 2008 Outstanding Foundation Volunteer Award at Huntsville Hospital Foundation's Society of 1895 Recognition Dinner.
Chris was honored for his work on the Melissa George Neonatal Memorial Fund. I could not have been more proud of him! Because I was on TV and I'm often the one who is out in the community talking about Melissa's Fund, people tend to associate me with the fund. But, Chris works so hard behind the scenes. His love and his passion for this fund are truly amazing.
Let me be honest with you. If it weren't for Chris, I don't know if there would even be a Melissa George Neonatal Memorial Fund. It was Chris' idea to start the fund, and I said "no" several times. I thought there was no way I could relive our loss and tragedy every day, and I certainly didn't think I could talk about it in public or to groups of strangers. To Chris' credit, he didn't push me; but, he also didn't let it go. Every once in a while he would just remind me that we were in a position to do a lot of good, and that he thought we should. Eventually, I just prayed and told God that if this was the plan he had for our lives, then he would have to carry us, because we just didn't have the strength to do it on our own. And he did. I give him all the glory for what has been accomplished through my daughter's fund. And I give Chris the credit for pushing me to do the right thing.
I want to share some excerpts from his introduction last night. It was written by our friend, and Foundation president, Candy Burnett. I had tears in my eyes as it was read aloud.
"This volunteer’s involvement with the Foundation began with an event that brought both great joy and great tragedy to his family. In 2005, their twin daughters were born prematurely. Ann Catherine weighed only 1 pound, 15 ounces and spent 68 days in our Neonatal ICU; sadly, Melissa passed away shortly after birth.
This father and his wife selflessly shared their experience with the community and chose to honor Melissa’s short life by establishing a fund that has made a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of tiny infants. Their desire was to help furnish the lifesaving equipment needed to provide the best chance of survival for newborns like Ann Catherine and Melissa, and to thank the physicians and nurses who give the gifts of life and hope every day.
Although his wife is more recognizable in the community, he too is “famous” in his own right. A former professional hockey player, he is now more than comfortable donning pink shirts and ties to raise funds for his most important cause and passion. And because of his stature in the hockey community, for two years the Huntsville Havoc has hosted Melissa George Night, and raised a combined $120,000 in jersey auction donations for the Neonatal ICU.
Along with his wife, tonight’s honoree has helped to raise more than $600,000 in just three years to benefit our hospital’s tiniest, most vulnerable patients. And he has done it with gusto! I’m sure that most of you know, by now, who our honoree is. He is an enthusiastic volunteer; a generous donor and most important, he’s a great daddy."
The last part was my favorite, because Chris is such a great daddy. His girls love him more than anything and he loves them with all of his heart.
When Melissa died, Chris' struggled with the same thoughts as other men who lose a child. Men want to "fix" things, and her death and our pain was something he just couldn't "fix." But he took that tragic situation and turned it into something so positive. He couldn't save Melissa. But, through his efforts, other fathers have been able to take their little girls or boys home from the NICU. And those fathers who haven't, can look at Chris and see that you can survive something so heartbreaking.
I am so proud of him. He's a wonderful husband, an extraordinary father and just truly a good person. I can't think of anyone who deserved this honor more.