By Bobby Hundley, UNC Health Foundation
It was a happy coincidence in the midst of tragedy that brought Dr. Tracy Manuck and her team into the lives of Mike and Holly Overman.
Born and raised in Virginia, the Overmans found themselves drawn to North Carolina by family and their shared love of the beach, and the couple eventually relocated to the Triangle from Richmond in 2015. When Holly came to UNC Health in the fall of 2019 experiencing complications with her pregnancy, it just so happened that Dr. Manuck, one of the nation’s foremost specialists in preterm labor, was assigned to a labor and delivery shift.
“She was the first sign of normalcy, of calming influence,” Holly said of Dr. Manuck’s presence that day. “I knew that the situation was pretty bad and our chances of things working out well were low, but she brought so much calm into such a chaotic moment. She had a game plan, she was ready to go, she had backup plans, she had everything under control. I just remember feeling so grateful for her taking over and making such a chaotic and terrible time feel slightly less terrible.”
Preterm birth is defined as delivery prior to 37 weeks and impacts between 10 and 12 percent of the population. Libby and Lucy Overman were born at 23 weeks and had significant complications related to their prematurity. After spending the next several days in the NICU, the twin girls passed away in September of 2019.
Despite their tragic loss, Mike and Holly were touched by the care they received from their team at UNC Health.
“Whether it was the attending physician or the person bringing us dinner in the hospital room, everyone treated us with so much respect and were just so kind and understanding,” Holly said.
“When your life feels like it’s falling apart, it feels good to know that people are there with you.”
“I want there to be a day where no one else goes through what you’ve gone through.”
Dr. Manuck knew early in her days as a medical student that she wanted to serve high-risk mothers and their babies.
“I always knew that I wanted to take care of moms with high-risk pregnancies, I knew that in medical school. Throughout residency I became much more interested in the clinical conundrum of prematurity, where we have moms who have an uncomplicated pregnancy and all of the sudden their whole lives are turned upside down by having a baby in the NICU.”
Dr. Manuck came to UNC Health from the University of Utah in 2014 and immediately started the Prematurity Prevention Program to provide evidence-based care in a consolidated manner for women who are at risk for preterm birth. The program has a dual focus to care for patients while also conducting research to find new solutions to the problem of prematurity. The hope created by this combination of clinical care and research is what continues to drive her.
Her message to mothers is clear: “I want there to be a day where no one else goes through what you’ve gone through.”
Preserving the memory of Libby and Lucy
Both Holly and Mike had experience in fundraising, and a conversation with Dr. Manuck at a follow-up appointment later that fall laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Libby and Lucy Overman Fund For Prematurity.
For Holly, it was an important step in preserving the memory of Libby and Lucy in a positive way.
“It’s been a really powerful healing opportunity for us,” Holly said. “To be able to channel such a negative thing into positivity and to be able to have something that will allow us to remember our girls forever…I know how easy it can be to let what happened happen, and let their names die with them. I just didn’t want that, I wanted to be able to talk about it. And I knew that if we didn’t have sort of this positive way to talk about it, it would be incredibly hard to even bring up their names. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to do this for them and to help other people.”
The Fund supports Dr. Manuck and her program in three ways – financial support for patients, self-care support for mothers in the hospital, and research. Each aspect of the Fund has proven to be impactful for not only patients and their families, but the Overmans and Dr. Manuck as well.
One of the key ways that the Fund supports mothers is by providing financial assistance for patients who have trouble getting to Chapel Hill. “That was the most heartbreaking thing in the world to me,” Holly said of mothers who were unable to be with their babies in the NICU due to financial constraints. “No one should have to be away from their baby while they are in the hospital, and to be able to help with that was really important.”
Through care packages and hand-written notes complete with a logo designed by Dr. Manuck that features Libby and Lucy’s footprints, the Fund also helps make a hospital stay a little more comfortable for mothers. Items include hand creams and lip balms to combat the dry conditions of the hospital as well as ear plugs and eye masks to help mothers sleep better.
A lasting connection
Dr. Manuck admits that part of her passion for this work is her need to connect with and stay in touch with her patients. As Libby and Lucy’s birthday approached last fall, she was trying to find the right way to send her support to Holly and Mike.
The Overmans were one step ahead of her, providing individual meals for the labor and delivery and NICU staffs as a way to thank them for their commitment to patients. According to Mike, it was a gesture borne out of a level of gratitude that they will never forget.
“We really wanted to do something for the nurses and there were so many of them that touched us,” Mike said. “It was something we felt like we could do to re-connect with some of those folks we still remember so well, who had been there for us in ultimately the toughest moment of our lives.”
“Mike and Holly are this incredible couple who are so grateful and thankful for their experience and for the support they received, even though they didn’t have a good outcome,” Dr. Manuck said. “They thanked us in an incredible way. The words mean so much when we take care of things that are so serious. I’m thinking about how to reach out to say ‘I’m thinking of you and so sorry for your loss’, and here they are pouring their hearts out and being so generous and grateful.”
“It takes my breath away, it brings me to tears and it’s what keeps me going, knowing that there are people out there like Holly and Mike,” Dr. Manuck said. “Their generosity and their vision to make good out of a tragedy, their commitment to this cause is something I am so grateful for.”
For more information on how to support the Libby and Lucy Overman Fund For Prematurity, please contact Jodie Gisser at firstname.lastname@example.org.