December 2, 2013

Charlie’s brief stay on Earth made a lasting impression

A Maine baby born with cancer dies after 17 days but inspires others.

By Joe Lawlor
Staff Writer

Charlie entered the world sporting a shock of jet black hair. His tiny ears were “pinch-me” cute, just like his mom’s.

Nicole Wheeler holds her son Charlie in the hospital. He died of cancer Dec. 7, 2012 – 17 days after he was born. “He never cried,” she said. “He had such positive energy and love.”

Nick Bowie-Haskell photo

click image to enlarge

Nick Bowie-Haskell and Nicole Wheeler hold a photograph of their son Charlie in their home in South Portland on Nov. 25. The couple have started a fundraising campaign called “17 Days of Charlie” in their son’s memory. Proceeds will benefit another family and the Maine Children’s Cancer Program.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

17 days of Charlie fundraiser

To participate in the fundraiser, which benefits the Maine Children’s Cancer Program, call 272-9230 or visit

But when Charlie arrived, doctors immediately noticed he couldn’t breathe well and his midsection swelled like an engorged water balloon.

“I heard them say the baby needs resuscitation,” said his mother, Nicole Wheeler, who at the time was immobilized and groggy from her Caesarean section surgery. Although complications had arisen during the pregnancy, the last few weeks before birth had gone well, and they were expecting a healthy boy with Down syndrome.

But minutes after the birth, the news turned dire.

“As they were putting me back together, the doctor told me that my baby had cancer,” Wheeler said.

She panicked, and hyperventilated. Doctors gave her calming medication.

A blood test administered shortly after birth came back positive for leukemia.

Charlie’s life would be a fight, from the moment he was born Nov. 20, 2012, two days before Thanksgiving.

But he was a strong baby.

“I never lost hope. I never gave up,” Wheeler said.

She touched Charlie once briefly on the head before nurses whisked him into the intensive care unit.


Wheeler and her life partner, Nick Bowie-Haskell, shared their story with the Press Herald – a story of how the young family dealt with their child’s battle with leukemia and liver damage and what happened after his death. They’re turning their personal tragedy into a time to help others – one year after Charlie died – by starting a fundraising campaign for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program.

The events started to unfold last year, when the couple decided it was time for another baby.

Both natives of South Portland who have been together since they were high school sweethearts, the two became parents when they were 22, young and naive.

Now in their 30s and at a stable time in their lives, they wanted to have another child, since they were older and wiser.

“We were finally ready,” Bowie-Haskell said, smiling.

Bowie-Haskell is a videographer who wears winter hats indoors and has a calm voice, while Wheeler is an education tech with auburn hair and a wide smile. Their son Jack, 9, loves turtles, while daughter Jenna, 7, is into dolls. They play well together but can get into fights like siblings do.

“They’re best friends and worst enemies all at the same time,” Wheeler said, chuckling.

The family lives in the Willard Beach area of South Portland, minutes from both sets of grandparents. They go on lots of family outings, days filled with hiking, skiing and swimming.

Their busy house includes a dog, two cats, a rabbit and a turtle, with family pictures seemingly in every room.

Charlie’s photo sits on the mantel above where the wood stove used to be.


Like many, the Bowie-Haskell family lived as if nothing could go wrong, the “invincible” feeling when everything, for the most part, goes well for years.

“You can live in a fantasy bubble where bad things don’t happen,” Bowie-Haskell said. “We were in that bubble.”

They breezed through Wheeler’s first doctor’s appointment at 12 weeks of pregnancy.

“We went to the appointment like veteran parents. I never even thought that something could go wrong,” she said.

Charlie’s due date was Dec. 25, so they bought a Santa chalkboard, and every day they counted down 100 days to Christmas and the birth of the baby.

“It was very exciting for the kids. That’s when Santa’s coming and that’s when your baby brother is going to be here,” Wheeler said. “Because his due date was Christmas, people joked with us that he was the baby Jesus.”

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Jenna 7, and Jack Bowie-Haskell, 9, visit their brother Charlie in the intensive care unit last year. “That was the second-hardest thing to do, to tell them their baby brother had died,” their mother said.

Nick Bowie-Haskell photo

click image to enlarge

Nick Bowie-Haskell holds his son Charlie in the hospital. Charlie died in December from an incurable cancer, 17 days after he was born.

Nicole Wheeler photo

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A photograph of Charlie sits on the mantel of the family’s home in South Portland.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Nicole Wheeler visits her son Charlie in the intensive care unit at Maine Medical Center in Portland. The baby was born with Down syndrome and leukemia and died 17 days after he was born. “We didn’t have any other option than to have hope,” his mother said. “We had two (other) kids who needed us to be strong.”

Nick Bowie-Haskell photo


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