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 3)

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

“We were hiking on Bradbury Mountain, and I said, ‘Please, God, give us a sign,’ ” Wheeler said. “I looked down, and saw a piece of bark that looked like a heart. It was from Charlie.”

Two tree stumps shaped like hearts are displayed in their living room, and the children especially have enjoyed looking for “hearts from Charlie” over the past year.

In March, they went to the Bahamas but couldn’t escape the sadness.

“We went on a trip to one of the most beautiful places in the world but we still couldn’t be completely happy. There’s always something missing,” Wheeler said.

Seeing other families with young babies was difficult, and people tended to avoid them in the months after the death.

“People couldn’t deal with me talking about it, but I couldn’t see pretending like he never existed,” she said.

Murray said feelings of isolation are common because most people can’t imagine and haven’t experienced losing a baby, so it becomes difficult for people to relate. That means people are more likely to avoid talking about it, Murray said.

“There’s no opportunity to be really understood because people haven’t had a similar loss,” she said. “But Charlie lived, and he will always be with them.”

Wheeler said she doesn’t want to “get over” Charlie’s death, in part because her son’s life has enriched them spiritually.

“He was meant to be ours, and to be in this world only 2½ weeks,” she said. “When I’m having a crappy day, I think if Charlie can make it through a day, I can make it through.”

They started a fundraising campaign called “17 Days of Charlie,” with proceeds to benefit another family and the Maine Children’s Cancer Program.

While the fundraiser helps others, they say it’s also therapeutic so they can stay busy and focused instead of walling themselves off from the world. Every day for the 17 days Charlie lived, through Dec. 7, they sell raffle tickets and give away prizes, such as tickets to events or groceries. All prizes have been donated. They also share a personal moment from Nicole’s diary that she kept when Charlie was in the hospital.

“I wanted to not feel completely sad at this time of year,” Wheeler said.

The couple said they’ve decided to, in the near future, try again to have another baby. No, they’re not scared. And don’t ask them when they’re going to get married, Nicole said, laughing.

“We’re so grateful for the experience of Charlie,” Wheeler said. “We had him 17 days, but whether it was 17 days or 55 years, he brought so much into our lives. We have so much to be thankful for.”

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

Twitter: @joelawlorph

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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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