Some situations are so difficult, so complicated, that no one — not even family — can understand.
It’s in those times when finding someone who is walking a similar path can feel like a blessing.
That’s the story of the friendship of two women, Maddie Raspe and Maggie Bax, who met at Advocate’s Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, when their daughters Sterling Raspe and Charlee Bax were being treated for different, but both very complex, medical needs.
“The day we met was the same day Sterling had to have an emergency surgery,” Raspe told TODAY Parents. Until that point, the women said, they had just smiled and waved to each other as they passed by in the halls.
“There was some commotion and I saw them (Maddie and her husband, Kingsley) in the hallway,” Bax said. “I just asked them if everything was OK.” After that, the women said they would pass notes to each other through the nurses and finally got each other’s phone numbers and began texting. At the time their daughters were in the hospital, there were no visitors allowed because of COVID protocols. No family was allowed to visit. But soon, Bax and Raspe, along with their husbands, became like family.
“There are a lot of people in the medical profession in my family and my husband’s (Tim Bax's) family,” Bax said. “So they have knowledge but not the understanding of what we were going through. Sterling and Charlee were so complex. Every day was so up and down, you never knew if it would be a good day or a bad day.”
Sterling Raspe was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), Kabuki syndrome and heterotaxy, where organs are not assembled correctly. Charlee Bax also had heterotaxy, as well as Congenital Heart Disease: Common Atrium, Common AV Valve, Single Ventricle, D-TGA, and TAPVR.
“The constant comment we heard from doctors was ‘we have never seen this before’ because Charlee had such a rare medical condition,” Bax said. There was no specific name for her diagnosis despite intensive testing.
Raspe told TODAY Parents the couples had similar ways of coping. “We would laugh at things that were probably inappropriate,” she said. “It was really all you could do. We would cry. After a hard day we would go out for a drink and laugh about how insane the situation we were in was.”
Sterling Raspe passed away on May 11, 2021. She was 8 months old and her lungs were not functioning properly. It was the day of Sterling’s wake, which Maggie and Tim attended, their own daughter took a significant turn for the worst. Charlee Bax, 6 months old, passed away on May 20. Both women keep their daughters’ spirits alive by constantly talking about them.
It was roughly two months after the girls had passed that Maddie got a text from Maggie, which she described in an Instagram post.
“When both girls are finally united in heaven, they got to work right away to conjure up a plan to not leave their parents arms and hearts empty,” she wrote. “Maggie texted me 2 months later telling me she is pregnant and freaking out. And I returned the favor by texting Maggie 1 month later that I am pregnant and freaking out! Putting us exactly 4 weeks apart. All we could think is “THOSE LITTLE STINKERS!”
Bax is due on March 18; Raspe, exactly one month later. It’s been a bittersweet journey. But once again, the two friends lean on each other, sharing the fear, joy and emotional roller coaster so few can understand.
And as they wait, the women are keeping Sterling and Charlee’s memories alive. The Raspes have started a foundation called Sterling Strong, while Maggie and Tim Bax support The Mulliganeers, an organization that supported them during Charlee’s hospital stay. Both women are passionate about blood donations and ask people to consider donating amid the nationwide blood shortage.
“We can’t control the journey of the babies inside of us," Bax said of dealing with the uncertainty the women feel. In some ways, they are handling their unexpected pregnancies in the same way they handled their daughters’ medical complications.
It was a text from Maggie that calmed Maddie. “She said, ‘we have to take this one day at a time, same as we did in the hospital.’”