Picture a beautiful little girl, delicate smile on her face, holding a baby doll. This is the Carina Ruth-Ann Britz people meet on the website for the foundation bearing her name. Her mother, Ann Britz, hopes others will remember her and be inspired by her courage.
Though her time was short, Carina left a huge mark on our world. Ann has persevered through unspeakable tragedy to further her daughter’s legacy – one of caring, paying it forward and taking comfort in the small things.
After trying for 11 years to have a child, and putting their plans for a baby on hold after her husband, Joe, was diagnosed with a rare cancer, Ann became pregnant at the age of 39. During her 25th week, tests revealed that the baby had hydraencaphaly. The two main arteries to her brain had failed to carry adequate blood supply to the cortex, inhibiting development. There was fluid where the cortex was supposed to be. The child would likely live only a few days, possibly up to one month.
After canceling baby showers and returning nursery furniture, the Britzes began the difficult task of planning for their child’s expectedly short life.
“We learned about pediatric palliative care and hospice for children, which I’d never even heard of,” said Ann. “We met with a palliative nurse, a counselor, and that’s also when we met Dr. Sarah Friebert and Dr. Catherine Kelly-Langen at Akron Children’s Haslinger Family Pediatric Palliative Care Center. They were right along with us for the next 10 weeks.”
The couple also had the unnatural experience of completing a hospice plan for their unborn child, knowing that they didn’t want her to go through aggressive treatments.
Carina was born June 25, 2007. Defying all odds, she went home five days later.
In her first year, Carina did many things the Britzes had been told she would never do. Each simple accomplishment was another milestone in her miraculous life. She developed a personality, she laughed, smiled, rolled over, reached for toys. Ann and Joe were overjoyed.
“We had waited so long to have her, and I knew she was my last chance to have a child of my own, so to see her thrive and defy expectations taught me so much about life and myself,” said Ann.
The second year was more difficult. Carina was sick much of the time and frequently had pneumonia. Her hospitalizations occurred more frequently. Ann and Joe could tell their courageous little girl was tiring of the fight.
They regrouped with the hospice team, and nurses were in the Britz home around the clock. “Carina got to stay in her own clothes, in her home, with her family, her dog, her music. It was hard and sad, but there was also beauty in it.”
Carina passed away at home March 31, 2009, three months shy of her second birthday. The little girl who had been given no more than a month to live had beaten the odds 21 times over.
In the months following Carina’s death, Ann found comfort in the guidance of Dr. Friebert and Dr. Kelly-Langen. “They came to our home and answered every question we had, calming all our fears – they were unbelievable,” said Ann. “I knew I would be connected to them forever.”
Out of a desire to help other families going through the stress and sadness of palliative care, the Britzes founded a foundation called Courage for Carina. The foundation buys gift cards these families can use to buy gas, groceries or perhaps pay a utility bill – small things that have a big impact, much like Carina.
One of the foundation’s largest fundraisers is its annual “Wine-Tasting with a View” event at the Skyview Lodge in Brunswick. This year’s, held May 10, was the biggest one yet. Three hundred people attended and raised more than $34,000 for the Haslinger Pediatric Palliative Care Center, bringing the four-year total to more than $100,000.
This year, though, Ann held the event without Joe. He passed away in November after a 13-year battle with carcinoid disease. “Joe was an amazing man. He was content to be in the background, but he was always by my side at each event,” said Ann.
She thought about canceling this year’s fundraiser. But people started calling her, unsolicited, to offer assistance or donate services. Ann took it as a sign to keep it going. “It was almost as if Joe was telling me he would be upset if I stopped the momentum now.”
Ann says she even felt Joe’s presence at this year’s event. His entire family came in from out of state to attend. Her family was there. The DJ was an old friend of Joe’s. “We could feel Joe’s spirit in the room. It was electric,” said Ann. “I think it was his way his way of telling me I did a good job.”
Through the loss of her only child and now her husband, Ann continues to draw on the lessons Carina taught her as a source of strength. “She taught me a lot,” said Ann. “To celebrate the little milestones in life. How to slow down and embrace the moment. She taught me unconditional love. There’s nothing like loving a child; I didn’t know what that bond was like. I still have it. I hope somehow she can still feel that from me.”
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