I first heard about the hospice mom, Cori Salchert, almost two years ago, and learned the incredible story of how she and her husband Mark, who have eight biological children also foster and adopt terminally ill babies.
Cori used to be a perinatal bereavement nurse and even though she’s left that work professionally, she carries it out every day and her home. Babies who are in “hospice” typically come from families who can’t deal with the condition their child was born with and don’t want to see their child die. Cori and her family accept the privilege of caring for these children as well as the grief that comes with their deaths. Theirs is a strength and a love that truly surpasses understanding.
I now find myself telling you about this remarkable family again, because once again their boundless love is making headlines. Recently, instead of an ill infant, the Salcherts have adopted a terminally ill teen boy. The child had lived most of his life in the hospital and had the nickname “T Bear,” but Cori and Mark renamed him Samuel after his adoption.
TODAY Parents spoke to the family about this remarkable act of love and reports that Samuel “was born with leukodystrophy, a genetic disorder that causes the brain to degenerate.”
Cori first learned of T Bear over two years ago, but was not able to foster him at the time because of other fostering assignments. However, as soon as room became available in their home, the Salcherts asked to become his foster parents. They typically only fostered and adopted very small children and T Bear was 13 years old, but Cori felt strongly that he was supposed to be theirs.
“Samuel was not a baby,” Cori told TODAY Parents. “But he had a terminal disease and my heart wouldn’t let me leave him at the hospital just because I thought I was a ‘baby’ hospice mama. I found myself saddened to think he wasn’t wanted because of his many physical disabilities as well as his age and size, but then I realized it wasn’t that he was not wanted, it was that he was waiting for us.”
Of 2017, Cori and Mark were finally able to welcome the very sick but very loved teenager into their home as a foster child. Cori prayed that before he passed away that he would be able to be legally adopted by then. As his brain disease progressed, they continue to care for him, and eventually, it became clear that reunification with his biological family was not going to be possible and the Salcherts learned they would be able to adopt this special boy. Cori’s prayers that Samuel would be able to live and die surrounded by loving forever family were answered. TODAY Parents reports:
In September 2018, the Salcherts officially adopted 15-year-old Samuel surrounded by family, friends and members of the Sheboygan Fire Department and local police department. (The local EMT community are frequent visitors to the Salchert house, given their love for severely ill foster kids.)
“After declaring Samuel Salchert our own forever and always, the crowd clapped,” Cori said of the special day. “And Samuel had been wide-eyed during the ceremony but then broke into the most beautiful smile which everyone in the room could see.”
“We gave him the name Samuel because it means, ‘God heard my prayers,’ — fervent, tearful, hopeful and constant ones,” she went on. “This child, who hadn’t spoken a word in more than two years, bought a community of people together and initiated perseverance, kindness and love.”
Just three weeks later, God answered another prayer: Samuel passed away peacefully with his mom holding him. Salchert’s words about that moment bring me to thankful tears: I cannot imagine. She says:
“I cried and thanked God for the fact that I wasn’t losing my sweet boy, but giving him to the one who was going to make it possible for us to be together forever,” said Salchert. “My hand was resting over his heart, and I felt it stop…there is nothing pretty about watching a child die. It was not a beautiful experience, but I prayed his death would be able to be at home with our family present, and not chaotic and full of procedures and painful interventions. God heard my prayers and did exceedingly, abundantly above all I could have asked for or thought.”
I am so inspired and truly awed by Cori and Mark’s love for the many children they shepherd through life and death. Cori is so much more than a hospice mom: she’s a crusader for the value and beauty of life, and that all life is worth living with care and dignity. I pray we all take that lesson away from the Salchert’s story, and lift them up in prayer and they continue this incredible ministry of parenting.