Juniata couple finds peace after stillbirth through softball fundraiser that gives money to families that have children with unique medical conditions

Amber Foose-Miller always imagined that she would sing ‘In My Daughter’s Eyes’ by Martina McBride to her baby girl Harper.

“I wanted to give her everything,” Amber said.

But “everything” was packaged differently than she and her husband Gary could ever begin to envision.

They knew their baby’s heart wasn’t functioning properly. However, they had held onto a strong belief that she would have a good future.

Harper, sadly, passed away in her mother’s womb seven years ago.

Amber and Gary turned to their faith and believed that their baby girl’s tragedy would become a beacon of hope for others. Two years after her death, they created Harpers Warriors Foundation. The foundation provides financial and emotional support to families who have children dealing with unique medical conditions.

Amber, who overcame the trauma of losing her baby, now pours her energy and resources into helping others to heal.

“I went to Geisinger in Juniata County,” Amber said in a phone interview with FAN. “I went up there and they found out that (Harper) had a cyst.”

She and her husband followed medical experts’ directions to schedule regular check-up appointments at Penn State Health.

“It wasn’t a big deal,” Amber recalls thinking. “She had a cyst. I went to Hershey. I was 21 weeks. And I found out that it wasn’t a cyst.”

Harper had Heterotaxy syndrome, a rare condition where many of the body’s organs are formed abnormally or are in the wrong position. Amber said she thought, “OK, we’re going to have a small baby,” and she’s going to need extra care.

Harper was due for a heart exam on July 4, 2015. Amber said she and her family agreed that they would go through whatever was needed to improve Harper’s life.

“We have a huge family,” Amber said. “Normally, when you go to an appointment, you don’t have your entire family there. My mom, dad, sister, Nan, and Gary’s mom and dad were there with us that day. It was crazy. But, for whatever reason, I didn’t argue or make a big deal out of it. We were driving down to Hershey and trying to explain how serious everything could be.”

She and Gary were called into a room with their doctor, who told them that Harper didn’t have a heartbeat. And that she was “already gone.”

“I just couldn’t believe it,” she said. “My first thought was, how am I going to deliver this baby?”

Amber went through what she described as an unfortunate dialogue with her doctor. He wanted her to return to the waiting room, where other moms and dads were excitedly awaiting the birth of their newborn. She was told her other option was to go back to Geisinger to deliver Harper.

She said she was overwhelmed with feelings of, “there’s no way. I feel her. She’s in there.” She was very upset, and the doctor finally noticed.

“They showed me,” she said. “No, she’s really gone.”

Left alone in the room briefly, her doctor returned to provide her with a bigger room that could accommodate her and her family. She said he was prepared to deliver Harper that day.  

The entire process was surreal and traumatizing, she said. She can describe it vividly as though it recently happened.

“My mom took a picture,” Amber said. “(Harper) came out with prayer hands. We’ve done so many things through her name. And, it was like, at that time, she said, ‘mom and dad, I’m not here but wait to see what God can do through my name.’”

The community came together for the grieving couple. They began a GoFundMe campaign and helped them start a softball tournament that assisted them with paying for Harper’s burial and tombstone, which is in the shape of a butterfly.

“I wanted to give her everything,” Amber said. “We had a viewing and a funeral. People were very supportive. Juniata has only about 50,000 people in our population. And, it was incredible to see the people who supported us.”

Stillbirth and miscarriage are taboo topics that people avoid talking about, Amber said.

“Women I’ve known my whole life, who had miscarriages or stills, shared their stories,” she said. “Talking about it didn’t happen. It was a hush, hush thing. To this day, women are ashamed of it. We receive tons and tons of cards, and we hear lots of stories.”

The softball tournament isn’t expensive, Amber said.

“Maybe $100 per team,” she said. “We had seven or eight. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and beyond touched that the community would do this for us.”

The couple spent the next year praying, healing, and seeking direction. They decided they wanted to continue hosting the softball tournament that helped pay for their daughter’s burial and use the funds to help someone else. The tournament became a fundraiser for others in 2016.

Amber and Gary raised $1,870 in the second annual softball tournament for a boy who had an estimated 100 seizures a day. The third annual tournament, they gave money to a family who birthed premature twins. They raised $4,700 in 2018 that was given to someone with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. And, in 2019, they raised $7,548 given to someone with malignant melanoma.

COVID-19 hit in 2020. And, then they resumed their efforts in 2021, when they raised $6,000.

The softball tournament is held September 17 at Walker Park in Mifflintown. This year, Amber and Gary, along with their committee members, raised over $9,276, which brought Amber to tears.  

In addition to the softball games, money is raised through concessions and an auction, where every single item is donated by an individual, family, or business in their community.

“That was a milestone,” she said. “I started crying and I couldn’t even believe it. There’s no other way to explain that day.”

They gave the money to a family whose son was hospitalized for 14 months. He is expected to be in and out of the hospital for the rest of his life, she said.

“I feel like we would’ve given Harper the world had she been alive,” Amber said. “It took me years through counseling to understand what happened to her.”

Harpers Warriors Foundation is hosting a cornhole tournament in January to raise more funds to help more families.

“Things are really taking off,” Amber said. “We want to consistently keep having these events. They get to have fun, but they know what they are supporting. As the money keeps building up in the account, we are able to help more than one family. Not only to show what God can do through all of us, but also that day, when I was told that Harper was gone, I don’t want anyone to feel like they are alone like I did.”

Amber is now a mom of three children. She said Harper is their angel watching over them.

When she can find time, she said she wants to continue to advocate for women who have miscarriages or stillbirths. She said there is no reason for a hospital in 2022 not to have a private, warm room for a mom or parents who just lost their baby. 

“We don’t want you to feel alone,” she said. “There are caring people out there. Your story is not over. Your story has just begun.”

Another new piece of Harpers Warriors Foundation is sending a wind-chime to a mother or parents, who has lost a child in the womb.

“When I lost Harper, one of my best friends sent me a windchime,” she said. “That meant more to me than I could ever explain. We have a garden with a pond in front of our house. Every time I hear that windchime, I think of Harper. The good and the bad, but mostly the good.”

While Harper isn’t physically present, Amber said she still did sing ‘In My Daughter’s Eyes,’ to her once they received her butterfly-carved tombstone.

“Obviously, she was gone,” Amber said. “But, I felt compelled and needed to do it. And, then a beautiful Monarch Butterfly flew on her tombstone.”

For more information about the upcoming cornhole competition or how to donate toward the cause, visit Harpers Warriors Foundation on Facebook.

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