Newborn Loss Inspires Reives, Wife to Help Other Parents

Friday, January 28, 2022
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After their challenging experience as first-time parents, Thomas and Shecara Reives have published books, organized book drives and are establishing a non-profit to provide resources and equipment to help families in need.

Mechanical engineering and engineering management alumnus Thomas Reives and his wife Shecara Squires Reives have turned their experience of losing a newborn into a story of motivation and resilience, as they endeavor to assist other parents who have newborns in Neonatal Intensive Care Units in hospitals around the world.

In the spring of 2017, Thomas and Shecara were delighted to learn that their family would be blessed with the birth of identical twin boys. On June 9, 2017, Rook and Carmine were delivered at 26 weeks gestation. On Father’s Day, just nine days later, Rook died in the NICU. After 165 days and several surgeries, including a tracheostomy, Carmine came home to the family’s home in Brownsburg, Indiana.

Like the Reives, first-time parents are too often unprepared for making difficult decisions about NICU care, when giving an unexpected early birth. Their experience covered four hospitals and a long list of tough decisions regarding their son’s care.  

“At that point, we wanted to spend as much time with our son as we possibly could,” says Thomas, a manufacturing operations manager for Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis. “After our experience of giving birth, the struggles and the triumphs that then unfolded, we kept telling ourselves that there was something more that we could do for families like ours.” 

He adds, “While we were in the NICU, we looked for books to read to our son. We looked for titles that promoted diversity in their stories and the characters represented. We found a title or two that talked about a tracheostomy, but they did so as a condition and less of a celebration.

This eventually led them to found Rooks Books Publishing, LLC.

“In the NICU, there are some services like music or pottery classes that would visit the rooms to provide comfort at times. We chose books to read to our sons. When we left the hospital, it was natural for us to think of a book drive to give back some of what we found to be so helpful,” says Thomas, who earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2008 and added a master’s degree in engineering management in 2010. “It was after completing a NICU donation book drive in 2020 that we realized at least one story was missing – our own. From that point, we were determined to share our story with the world.”

Shecara, a longtime writer and poet, wrote “I Made It: A Trach Baby Story,” a book telling the story about one baby’s survival through tracheostomy surgery. “I wanted Carmine to see himself in the stories, but most importantly, as a successful character in the stories,” Shecara states.

Thomas adds, “He’s really a celebration. He’s not a condition.” 

A second book in Rook’s Books’ I Made It series (available on Amazon), “Welcome to the NICU,” is inspired by Shecara’s experiences with her NICU babies. It strives to remove parents’ apprehensions about having preemie (births prior to 37 weeks) or micro-preemies (before 26 weeks) in a hospital’s NICU. Eskenazi Hospital of Indianapolis has established a partnership with Rook’s Books Publishing, giving the book to each family with a baby admitted to the NICU. 

More books are forthcoming to further the mission of education, advocacy, and celebration of milestones and stories seldom told. “This time, it wouldn’t necessarily be our stories, but those of other families who excel through things like Down Syndrome, Autism, or Childhood Diabetes,” says Thomas.

“When we left the hospital in November in 2017, there was so much to be thankful for in the process. However, we knew there were families we were leaving behind who didn’t necessarily have the same chance,” remarks the 2010 Rose-Hulman Athletic Hall of Fame inductee. “As we reflected on our own experiences, we also knew not everything in the NICU went as we had hoped. There were opportunities that could have been improved, information we wish we would have known ahead of time, and overall, we were missing a sense of community with parents and families who had similar experiences in the past that gave us insight and encouragement into the situation we were facing. This is ultimately what we would like to be to others. We would not only like to tell the stories but help support the positive outcomes.”

Once at home, Thomas found himself modifying strollers, car seats and toys to accommodate Carmine’s growing needs. He also incorporated important health care equipment in their home to monitor their son’s vital signs. “The insurance-provided options were to show up roughly six to eight months after we came home. The need to build options that fit our lives and were essential to the development for our son forced me to find solutions,” remarks Thomas. “It has been such a journey, becoming parents, and we just want to be a blessing to others along the way.”

With two books under their belt, the Reives have hosted an annual Holiday Book Drive the past two years that has provided more than 3,500 books for parents with children in NICUs at Riley and Peyton Manning Children’s Hospitals. The couple’s efforts have been featured by Indianapolis media and they have been honored with the Hoosier Lottery’s Community Impact Award and publicly recognized by the Indiana Pacers.

In spirit of The Engineer’s Creed, striving for the advancement and betterment of human welfare, the Reives plan on expanding their impact this year. They plan to establish a non-profit organization in hopes of providing resources and specialized equipment to families in need, where insurance may not or is slow to provide coverage.  

The couple has added younger siblings Reaux (Roe), 3, and Tatum, 22 months, to the family. Carmine, now 4 years old, is still fed through gastrostomy tube and receives physical, feeding and speech therapies each week. “He just lost his first tooth, and we love seeing him develop alongside his siblings,” says Shecara. “The ability to see our family grow has been amazing and the future is bright.”

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Contact the Reives family at info@rooksbooks.org
Learn more about Thomas in his Alumni Faces of STEM profile.

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