By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – On July 17, 2003, Rich and Sharon McGowan celebrated the birth of their first child, daughter Olivia. It was on this day, too, that they began the battle of their lives. Olivia was born at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and immediately taken to the Children's Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for evaluation. There, she was diagnosed with a condition called Fryns Syndrome, a multiple congenital anomaly syndrome usually resulting in neonatal death. Because most babies would succumb to this syndrome either before birth or shortly after, doctors could not offer Rich and Sharon much information or tell them the life expectancy of their baby girl.
“After hearing this news, [as parents] we decided that we were going to make every day count,” Sharon said.
Over the next eight years, Olivia endured many surgeries. She was in and out of the hospital, often staying for days or weeks at a time.
“Olivia endured more in her eight years of life than any of us will ever go through in a lifetime,” Sharon said. “Rich always called her his “brave little soldier.” She was a tough little girl. We treated Olivia like any other [healthy] child because in our eyes she was no different.”
On August 23, 2011, Olivia unexpectedly passed away at home. Just a few weeks earlier, Rich and Sharon had been told that Olivia was the oldest living child with Fryns Syndrome.
“Rich ([a major in the army] was on travel with the military when Olivia passed, and it was up to me to make the call to him and break the news. I did the best I could to get the words out that our little girl had passed away. Our lives had revolved around our little angel and now we would be saying goodbye to her,” Sharon recalled.
Remembering Olivia, Sharon said, “She had an amazing personality. She made us laugh, she was silly. Anyone who had the chance to meet Olivia could not help but fall in love with her. She was surrounded by so much love from so many people.”
“Rich and I were and still are her biggest advocates,” Sharon added. “We are the people that we are today because of Olivia. We could not have endured all that we went through without the support of family, friends and, above all, her many doctors, nurses and physical therapists at Children's Hospital. I believe that with the information we have now, we can help other families who are going through a similar situation.”
In memory of Olivia and her courageous battle with Fryns Syndrome, Jim and Tina Meltvier, family friends and members of the Marlborough Eagles Riders, have organized a fundraiser in her name.
“Sharon and Rich are good friends of ours, and we knew Olivia personally,” Jim said. “She was an amazing little girl, and she will always have a very special place in our hearts. We wanted to do something in her memory and decided to organize a motorcycle ride fundraiser with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the NICU at Children's Hospital. This event is close to our hearts and we hope to continue hosting it every year.”
Olivia's Ride is a community fundraiser sponsored by the Marlborough Eagle Riders. According to Tina, the Marlborough Eagles and the Marlborough Eagle Riders “stand for charity.”
The event will take place Saturday, June 23, starting at the Marlborough Eagles, 56 Florence St., and ending at the Marlborough Fish and Game, 1 Muddy Lane. There will be food, raffles, 50/50, DJ and a cash bar.
Registration begins at 9 a.m. with “kickstands up” at 11a.m. The public is welcome to attend ($10/person and Under 12 free) Motorcyclists: $20 Rider and $10 Passenger.
Anyone with questions can contact Jim at 774-245-0739 or Tina at 774-245-0740.
To get a preregistration form, go to: www.wix.com/eagleriders/oliviasride.
Mail checks to: Olivia's Ride • 18 Baldwin Ave. Marlborough, MA 01752 with checks payable o: Marlborough Eagle Riders, Memo: Olivia's Ride
Donations for raffle items are currently being sought.