How Blogging and Tweets Generate Support for a Family

Nicole Kempka - 09.18.2009

When bloggers Heather and Mike Spohr rushed their their 16 month old daughter Madeline to the hospital for a severe respiratory infection on April 6, 2009, they had no idea how quickly their lives would be turned upside down. Maddie had been born 11 weeks premature leaving scaring on her lungs. At that time the online community provided support and read about Maddie's development on their blogs.

On April 7, Maddie passed away unexpectedly leaving the Spohrs and the online community in shock. Days following their tragic loss their blogs were flooded with comments from their family, friends, bloggers, and people who heard about their daughter's death. Bloggers who knew Maddie put up posts on their own sites sharing memories and photos. They received generous donations to help offset the funeral costs along with hundreds of cards, emails, and gifts.

I heard about Maddie's death on Twitter only hours after it had happened. By the next day people on Twitter had started to turn their profile avatars purple to show support in Maddie's honor. By the day of the funeral almost my entire Twitter page had purple avatars, including myself. Knowing first hand the financial strain families go through when having a premature baby the Spohrs asked people to donate to the March of Dimes in Maddie's name. Since the April 14th memorial service people have donated tens of thousands of dollars directly to the March of Dimes. The Los Angeles March for Maddie on April 25, 2009 raised over $65,000 for the March of Dimes. March for Dimes teams nationwide have raised over $100,000 in Maddie's honor.

"It still chokes me up to think about it. There are hundreds of photos of people I've never met wearing shirts with Madeline's face on it. It's so amazing to think about how many people Maddie inspired to help others." ~ Heather Spohr
MoD Walk for Maddie

In July, Heather and Mike launched the nonprofit Friends of Maddie at the BlogHer '09 conference in Chicago which had an attendance of over 1,400 women bloggers. Donations to FOM go towards supporting the families of critically ill babies by easing the transition into NICU life and providing an ally until the end of their child’s hospital stay. In their first week the they raised over $8,000 with help from the blogging community writing posts on their site, tweeting requests for donations and sending out emails.


"It's been a LOT of work, but so far extremely rewarding ... it's been wonderful, a fantastic way to honor Maddie every day and make sure she lives on." ~ Heather Spohr


Heather and Mike still receive hundreds of comments on their blogs and emails daily. The FOM Twibbon is now on almost 500 Twitter avatars that were once purple. The FOM buttons are showing up in the side columns of blogs. Their daughter brought a virtual community together to increase awareness on the difficult situation many families find themselves in. This virtual community gave Heather and Mike the additional support they needed to turn their painful loss into a good cause.



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