Cori Salchert and her husband, Mark, have been caring for terminally ill children abandoned by their birth parents due to their conditions since 2012. But when Salchert heard of a 24-year-old mom who had just given birth to a child with a potentially life-limiting brain injury, the 55-year-old embarked on a different journey: co-parenting with the overwhelmed young mom to give the baby the best care possible.
Katie Boswell gave birth to baby Kassidy in July 2019, but the baby girl was not breathing.
"My umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck twice so she wasn't breathing at all when she came out," Boswell, who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, told TODAY Parents. "They got her breathing about five minutes after she was born and there were a lot of complications."
Boswell has two additional children, Kaiden, 5, and Kayla, 3. Kayla was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital heart defect, and had special needs of her own. Boswell knew she needed help caring for two sick children.
"In the hospital they were saying they didn't know if she was going to live," Boswell recalled. "I didn't want to take her home because I didn't want her to pass away at home. Then, thanks to my social worker, she went home with Cori."
Salchert, who has fostered and adopted several children with terminal diagnoses, said she was uniquely qualified to care for Kassidy, who doctors believed would only live for a few months.
Often, people who hear Salchert's story assume the worst about the biological parents of her foster children. But with Boswell and Kassidy, it's just the opposite: Salchert wants people to know that Kassidy's biological mom loves her so much that she just wanted the best care for her.
"We look at these kids that maybe don't have such a stellar prognosis and it looks like they will not live for very long, but we can make a difference while they're living," Salchert explained. "Now, Kassidy is going on 2. There's something to be said for having a child that's not living in the hospital — she has a lot of nurturing and I think that's made a world of difference."
While Boswell signed over her parental rights, allowing the Salcherts to adopt Kassidy in November 2020, she remains a daily part of her daughter's life and care.
Salchert says they're "co-parenting" baby Kassidy.
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"I got brought in because we wanted this to be a collaborative effort," Salchert said. "It's not, 'I'm stepping in and I'm taking her away,' but instead we ended up becoming this bigger family."
That bigger family involves daily text messages and FaceTime videos, as well as frequent meet-ups either in Salchert's Sheboygan, Wisconsin home or in Boswell's Milwaukee neighborhood. The two families have held birthday parties together, met for playdates at the park and even taken Kassidy and her big sister, Kayla, to get their ears pierced together.
"I’m not 'letting' Katie, Kayla and Kaiden be a part of Kassidy’s life," Salchert said. "There was never any question about them remaining involved. ... There's just a lot of gratefulness on both parts that we are doing this cooperatively. ...
"Katie is incredibly invested and that helps us to do this collaborative mothering together in spite of the distance," Salchert added, explaining that the two families live about an hour's drive apart.
As Salchert continues the day-to-day care of Kassidy, who lives with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, a disorder caused by her brain not receiving enough oxygen at birth, she says she sees her arrangement with Boswell as "addition or multiplication, not a minus situation."
"Kassidy has a very full life and a bigger family than she could have dreamed of," Salchert said.
Boswell said she's grateful for the Salcherts and their love for her daughter. And, she's glad she did what she knew was best for her family.
"I was just being a responsible person and I'm actually proud of myself that I spoke up and said I needed help — that was a big thing for me," Boswell said. "I realized I have two kids that are going to be very needy and I knew I couldn't do it by myself. ...
"I decided to give my rights up to Cori because she's done a lot for Kassidy and she's doing what Kassidy needs. I'm grateful she still lets me be a mom and do the best I can for her, and still be there for her when I can."