The International Council on Infertility Information Dissemination, Inc

Heather Bruce Thiermann Online Angel Award


Heather Bruce Thiermann Online Angel Award

By Linda F. Davey


It's nearly impossible to open a newspaper or watch an evening news broadcast without hearing something about the Internet. All too often, accompanying words like "smut," "pornography," "pedophiles" and "scams" perpetuate the myth that nothing but danger lurks in Cyberspace. It's refreshing, then, when a story illustrating the very best the Internet has to offer is broadcast for all to see. Such is the story of Heather Bruce Thiermann.

Heather's story is a triumphant example of how going on-line can not only change lives, but enhance them. Her story shows that friendships made via computers can be as rewarding as any, even if participants never meet face-to-face. But most of all, it demonstrates how experiences in Cyberspace can be exhilarating and sorrowful, and just as in "real life," love, support, encouragement and shoulders to lean on can be found.

Heather was a popular participant on the Infertility Bulletin Board on America Online (AOL). She and her husband, Steven Dempsey, were in the IVF program at The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in New York City. Heather struggled with massive uterine fibroids that prevented her from conceiving, but she was positive and hopeful despite eight years of infertility. After five surgeries, she finally became pregnant following her second in vitro fertilization attempt.

At this time, Heather moved on to the "Pregnant After Infertility" bulletin board on AOL, a subject created by INCIID cofounder, Nancy Hemenway. She shared all the fear and excitement of finally being pregnant with others on the board. As time neared for her planned C-section (previous surgeries made this necessary), her posts on the bulletin board became increasingly excited, and nervous. Then, just hours before the long-awaited time on January 8, Heather's C-section was canceled because of intense snow storms on the East Coast. Her doctor couldn't get to the hospital.

Two days later, on Wednesday, January 10, Heather and Steven became the proud parents of a beautiful and healthy baby girl they named Tara. Steven said he had never seen such a beautiful look of complete happiness in those brief moments when Heather laid eyes on the fruit of her labor. Heather saw Steven holding Tara, then she fell into a coma. She never regained consciousness, and thirteen days later, Heather died.

This terrible loss has been retold throughout Cyberspace and people on all the on-line services and the Internet have reacted with shock and sorrow. Heather's family and her husband have been inundated with e-mails expressing sympathy. You didn't have to know Heather to love her for all that she did to support others on-line.

Many on-line have come together to support the family and show their love and appreciation for Heather. The founders of INCIID established an annual award to recognize the contributions of an individual or group whose participation on-line has served to support, encourage and educate others about infertility. It is named the "Heather Bruce Thiermann Online Angel Award," and the first recipient, posthumously honored, is the special woman for whom it is named. We are so honored to be entrusted with carrying on a part of Heather's spirit.

In addition to naming the INCIID Online Angel award for Heather, more than 60 on-line friends are making a patchwork quilt for baby Tara. A memorial fund in Heather's name has been established at Cornell MedicalCenter with the funds earmarked for infertility research. A separate fund has been established for Steven and Tara. One AOL participant called for volunteers who live in theNew York area to join a group called "The Aunties," whose members will help take care of Tara, run errands, and generally help Steven when possible.

At INCIID, we have come to know and love Steven. We are amazed at the strength and grace with which he has managed the terrible hand fate has dealt him. We very much enjoyed meeting him face-to-face at the INCIID conference this past March [1996], at which he accepted the first "Heather Bruce Thiermann Online Angel Award."

At INCIID, we continue our quest to educate people about infertility. Heather worked very hard to educate others, especially about their options regarding IVF vs. hysterectomy. Heather was part of a very special on-line family, and she is missed by everyone.

Please contact INCIID if you are interested in serving on or organizing a committee for the Annual INCIID Online Angel Award