By: Karen Zgoda, MSW, LCSW
Editor’s Note: In this issue, I am pleased to welcome our new technology columnist, Karen Zgoda. In this newly-titled SW 2.0 column, Karen will bring us news of the latest, most up-to-date tech topics for social workers!
CaringBridge: A Valuable Tool for Social Workers and Those With Critical Illness, In Treatment, or in Recovery
A woman smiling with brown curly hair, holding a candle in each hand, one candle a “4” and the other a “0,” and a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. A newborn baby sleeping peacefully in an intensive care unit (ICU), surrounded by soft, cuddly stuffed animals, multiple tubes coming out of his small body, the unfortunate result of a congenital heart condition. A U.S. Marine Corps soldier back from Iraq without his legs and injuries to other parts of his body. The 14-year-old girl who developed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) over the course of a few months and needed to spend two months in a treatment center. A young woman who recovered from a brain aneurysm but who can no longer drive and needs to ask for rides without feeling like a burden to friends and family.
It may seem hard to believe that all these individuals are able to provide regular updates on their conditions, recovery, and maintain relationships with their friends and loved ones. In fact, each of the individuals can receive messages of love and support from their friends and loved ones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for free. Using a unique technology-driven tool, each of these vibrant, beautiful people struggling and fighting for their health and happiness has his or her own CaringBridge online community (http://caringbridge.org/stories).
According to the CaringBridge Web site (http://caringbridge.org/about):
CaringBridge® is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit Web service that connects family and friends during a critical illness, treatment, or recovery. A CaringBridge Web site is personal, private, and available 24/7. It helps ease the burden of keeping family and friends informed. Patients and caregivers draw strength from loved ones’ messages of support.
150,000 families have created free, personalized CaringBridge Web sites
Over half a billion visits by families and friends
20+ million guestbook messages of hope and encouragement
150+ new personal CaringBridge communities created daily
Used in 190+ countries around the world
Sona Mehring created CaringBridge in 1997. At the time, a friend of Sona’s had serious complications with her pregnancy. After the birth, the mother remained in critical condition while her baby was born nearly three months premature. Sona then created a Web site to help keep friends and family members informed about their condition. Posting updates on the Web site allowed the mother to rest and the hospital staff to focus on care, rather than address a constant stream of information inquiries. In addition to offering daily news on the mother and baby’s condition, a guestbook feature was added to the Web site, so guests could leave messages of support and encouragement. Unfortunately, the small baby survived only nine short days and passed away during surgery. The Web site Sona created was then used to share news of the baby’s passing to help alleviate the heavy burden of sharing the news with multiple friends and family members. The parents also used the site to write a final message about their daughter and thank visitors. As a result, a memorial fund was established at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, to provide a computer with Internet access so that patients and families could create their own CaringBridge online communities.
Lisa Gebo, an editor and friend of many in the social work community, was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer and has used CaringBridge since 2006. Here is her story in her own words:
I was first introduced to CaringBridge® when one of my former colleagues invited me to join his circle of friends and family when his young son became very ill. I was honored to be invited (by way of a simple e-mail to a link where I then completed an easy on-line guest registration process). I was impressed by the growing social support network that the family’s Web page came to represent. As my colleague had updates regarding his son’s health status, I would get an automatic notice in my e-mail. I could then go to the family’s personalized site, read the latest news, enjoy adorable pictures of this boy I have never met but love nonetheless, and post encouraging notes to my friend and his family in the guest section.