In memory of Jacob
— The loss of their precious infant to a rare disease inspires a Parkwood family to fight.
The Sales family — Mike and Fran, their son Dylan and other relatives — were excited to learn in late 2009 that they would be welcoming triplets into the world.
It’s typical for a woman carrying triplets to give birth at 34 weeks after conception.
On the morning of May 18, 2010, Fran Sales was at Abington Memorial Hospital for an ultrasound when she began having contractions. She was at 31 weeks and three days of her pregnancy.
Doctors tried to slow down or stop the contractions, to no avail.
After about eight hours, shortly before 6 p.m., Jacob, Shane and Christopher Sales were born. Jacob and Shane weighed 3 pounds, while Christopher was 3 pounds, 6 ounces.
“They were all doing fine,” Fran Sales said.
In fact, the nurses dubbed the boys the “stars” of the neonatal intensive care unit.
The boys stayed at the hospital for an extended period, and their parents were at their side.
On Memorial Day, May 31, Mike and Fran arrived at the hospital to find doctors working on Jacob.
“He was the strongest of the three,” his dad said.
What the Parkwood couple didn’t know was that Jacob had developed necrotizing enterocolitis, a gastrointestinal disease that attacks premature babies within the first two weeks of life.
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NEC involves infection and inflammation that causes destruction of a portion or all of the bowel.
The disease affects 1 in 2,000 to 4,000 NICU admissions, and is more common for babies weighing less than 3 pounds, 5 ounces. It is the most common and serious gastrointestinal disorder among hospitalized preterm infants.
“It’s not real common, but there’s a high mortality rate,” Fran Sales said.
Premature infants have immature bowels, which are sensitive to changes in blood flow and prone to infection. They may have difficulty with blood and oxygen circulation and digestion.
Jacob was taken to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, and his color seemed to be coming back, though he remained in critical condition entering surgery on June 1.
Sadly, Mike and Fran Sales were about to hear the news they dreaded.
“The doctor came out, and I could tell by his face. There was nothing they could do for him,” Mike said.
The couple summoned their extended family to the hospital to say goodbye to Jacob John.
Instead of counting the days down until all three boys could come home for the first time, they had to plan a funeral Mass at St. Anselm Church.
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It was, of course, a sad occasion. Then-11-year-old Dylan told the mourners, “I have a message for my brother Jacob. Jacob, I am so glad you are my baby brother. I will watch over your baby brothers Shane and Christopher. I know you will have a good life in heaven with grandmom Theresa. I love you. Rest in peace. Love, your big brother Dylan.”
The Sales family wanted to memorialize Jacob in some way and raise money to help find a cure for NEC and to assist parents with children in the St. Christopher NICU.
Dylan, now 13 and a basketball player for the Academy Sabres, initially wanted to hold a basketball tournament. The family settled on Jacob’s Layups Foundation as its charity, but went in another direction for the main fund-raising event.
“We thought we could raise more money at a beef-and-beer, and we kept the name,” Dylan said.
The second annual Jacob’s Layups Foundation beef-and-beer will take place Saturday, April 14, from 7 to 11 p.m., at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 upstairs hall.
Tickets are available in advance or at the door and include music, food, beer, soda and door prizes. Additional money will be raised through a 50-50 drawing, a basket of cheer, the sale of bracelets and T-shirts, a Chinese auction and a 24-page program that includes a touching letter from Dylan.
Top items include a Tablet computer, Phillies tickets, an autographed Claude Giroux picture, a Coach handbag, Morey’s Piers water park tickets and gift cards.
“We’re hoping to get two-hundred people and trying to raise twenty-thousand dollars,” Mike said.
Proceeds will be given to NEC research and NICU needs at St. Christopher’s Hospital. Fran Sales and Megan LePore, development director at St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children, will address the crowd.
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A benefit last June at the FOP raised $14,000, which would have been higher had it not been for the startup costs for a non-profit.
In between fund-raisers, the family held an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast at Applebee’s. Also, the Neumann University men’s and women’s basketball teams donated 50 cents for every layup made at home games this past season.
In the future, the family might hold a car wash and whiffle ball tournament.
Each November, they attend an emotional memorial service for children who have passed at St. Christopher’s.
During the last two Christmas seasons, they have placed a 14-foot-high lighted tree at Resurrection Cemetery, near the graves for Jacob and other children. Families place balls on the trees with their children’s names on them.
Jacob also has an Easter basket at his grave.
Mike, Fran and Dylan are grateful for all the support received from Jacob’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
“Our family has been great. We ask a lot from them, and they always come through,” Mike said.
The family has also been buoyed by support from friends, businesses and co-workers. Mike is a police officer assigned to the 39th district. Fran works in the food and nutrition department of Aria Health-Torresdale Campus and teaches Pilates classes at the Northeast Family Y.
Mike Sales has happy memories of holding Jacob.
“He’ll always be a part of the family,” he said. “We’ll never forget him. When we sign birthday and Christmas cards, his name is on the card.”
Shane and Christopher Sales are happy and healthy 22-month-old toddlers with loving parents, an older brother and extended family.
“I show them Jacob’s picture, and as they get older I’ll tell them more about him,” Fran said. “To me, we will always have triplets. Jacob will always be a part of them, and they are a part of him.” ••
How to help . . .
Jacob’s Layups Foundation will hold its second annual beef-and-beer fund-raiser on Saturday, April 14, from 7 to 11 p.m., at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 hall, at 1336 Spring Garden St.
Tickets cost $30 in advance and $35 at the door.
Anyone who wants to make a donation can send checks to Jacob’s Layups Foundation, P.O. Box 63394, Philadelphia, PA 19114.
For more information, call 215-870-1917, visit www.jacobslayups.org or check out the Jacob’s Layups Foundation page on Facebook.