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

(Continued from page 2)

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

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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

Once home, he told Wheeler, without elaborating, that she had to go to sleep.

“I knew we were in for a difficult day ahead,” he said.

The couple fell asleep, only to be awakened at 3 a.m. Dec. 7.

“We were told it was time to come in and say goodbye to Charlie,” Wheeler said, tears welling in her eyes.

Charlie had been moved to a large ventilator so that he could breathe, but the machine shook his tiny body with every breath.

Wheeler said doctors told them Charlie’s body was filling with fluid, and that he would die either from the fluid buildup or by not being able to breathe. They had to choose whether to take him off the ventilator.

Wheeler said they knew they had to end Charlie’s suffering and remove the ventilator, but it was hard to know when to do so. A few hours passed, and she approached Charlie.

“I really believe in soul connections, and I walked up to Charlie and said, ‘Charlie, give me a sign that you’re ready.’ At that moment, he opened his eyes, looked at me and blinked quickly three times,” Wheeler said, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

She gave the sign, and doctors removed Charlie from the ventilator and gave her her baby, 17 days after his birth. Charlie immediately stopped breathing.

“It was all too much, so I handed him to Nick,” she said.

In his father’s arms, Charlie’s heart stopped beating, and he died.

“There’s a certain amount of beauty to it,” Bowie-Haskell said softly. “To share that moment with another soul. It was hard, but such an honor.”


The couple had to tell their children what had happened. While Jack and Jenna knew that Charlie was sick and could die, it hadn’t completely sunk in, they said.

They took the children to Bug Light Park on a sunny day with clear blue skies, uncommonly warm for December.

“That was the second-hardest thing to do, to tell them their baby brother had died,” Wheeler said. “Jenna immediately started crying and Jack punched the lighthouse and was really angry. He had lots of questions about death.”

The next day, the children asked their parents when they were going to have another baby.

“Kids are so resilient,” Wheeler said. “They just roll with it.”

Christmas was right around the corner, and the next few weeks were a blur. A day after Charlie’s death, they went to a tree-lighting ceremony. Relatives and friends brought them food and gifts to put under the tree because they didn’t have much time to buy Christmas gifts.

Instead of a star, they put a Santa hat that Charlie had worn on top of the Christmas tree.

“We tried to make Christmas as normal for the kids as it possibly could be,” Wheeler said.

But on Christmas Day, while celebrating at her in-laws’, she started feeling overwhelmed.

“I sat on a bench outside for two hours and sobbed. People were trying to be normal and making small talk. I just couldn’t be normal,” she said.


Days and months went by, and the couple went to counseling to help deal with Charlie’s death.

“They embraced their grief and dove into it versus trying to run away from it,” said Elizabeth Murray, a licensed social worker with the Maine Children’s Cancer Program. “They had amazing skills dealing with a loss of this magnitude.”

Every month, they release balloons at Bug Light Park in Charlie’s memory.

They also collect hearts found in nature after an inspiring trip to Bradbury Mountain.

(Continued on page 4)

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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

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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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