WORKING THROUGH UNTHINKABLE TRAGEDY, THIS STATEN ISLAND FAMILY CONTINUES TO RAISE THOUSANDS FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH AND EDUCATION, ALL IN THE NAME OF THEIR DAUGHTER
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY AMESSE PHOTOGRAPHY
Born July 21, 2018, Juliet Francine Hayes was an ebullient child. Topped with a head full of blonde curls, the outgoing toddler regularly broke out into song in front of the TV, and loved Elmo almost as much as she loved her dog, Romeo. She was the baby of the family, a daughter to two loving parents and sister to three adult siblings who adored her. “She fought me every single day to go to sleep,” laughed her mother, Maryann Hayes, dressed in a ladybug T-shirt in honor of her daughter. “We always joked she had a fear of missing out. Each morning, she woke up with a huge smile on her face. She was the best part of my day.”
Tragically, the Hayes family was only given slightly more than two years with Juliet. The effervescent child presented with a mild fever in September 2020, and within 24 hours, complications surrounding a severe neurologic condition had taken her young life. After being admitted to the emergency room at Staten Island University Hospital, specialists performed a spinal tap and brain scan, confirming a cerebral pontine hemorrhage, or bleeding in Juliet’s brain. She was immediately transported via helicopter to Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Long Island (also part of the Northwell Health system) before passing, surrounded by the people she loved.
Today, Juliet’s legacy lives on through Project Juliet, a charitable group and research grant initiative whose mission is to develop educational/training programs for evaluation and diagnosis of children with acute neurologic syndromes. Though the group is less than two years old, through prolific support from the community and partnership with the SIUH Foundation, the Hayes family today is offering one-year grants up to $10,000 for physicians and medical researchers to develop educational curricula that will forward the prevention and treatment of children with neurologic syndromes like Juliet’s.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to why this happens to some children,” said Hayes. “I’m hoping through the research, they can figure out how to prevent this from ever happening to another child.”
In the months following Juliet’s passing, Hayes was admittedly not thinking about anything beyond grieving her child, much less organizing a grassroots effort that would eventually raise tens of thousands of dollars overnight. Hayes’ sister and her colleagues with SIUH’s Pre-Admission Testing department presented her story to management. Hayes was eventually connected with Jamie Lynn Homan, SIUH’s major gifts officer, to discuss raising funds for a donation in Juliet’s name to the hospital’s new Gruppuso Family Women & Newborn Center. The family decided on a bassinet, which required a $15,000 donation. After Hayes penned Juliet’s story, it was posted to the hospital’s website along with the family’s personal social media pages. Less than 24 hours later, Hayes called Homan with news.
“We started out small,” she recalled. “We thought, let’s see if we can raise enough money for a bassinet. Less than a day after Juliet’s story went live, I called Jamie and asked her what happens after we hit the $15,000 mark? She was blown away. I asked what else we could do, and she suggested striving for an entire room for Juliet, which was a $25,000 donation.”
Four days later, the total amount raised exceeded $35,000. “We were floored,” added Hayes. When the center, which will provide a seamless birth experience and more efficient care for Staten Island mothers, babies, and families, opens in 2023, one of the labor-and-delivery rooms will bear Juliet’s name.
This July 24, 18 months after the foundation was formed, the Hayes family is celebrating what would have been their daughter’s fourth birthday with a raffle fundraiser at Mimmo’s Brick Oven Pizza & Trattoria in Great Kills. The neighborhood pizzeria is owned by Hayes’ cousin, Dominick A., who eagerly donated the space for what Hayes said will be the first of many annual birthday celebrations for her daughter.
“My goal is to do a birthday party every year for Juliet, continuing these fundraisers in her honor,” said Hayes.
As soon as the family advertised the raffle, donations for the event came pouring in. Tickets sold out in mere days. Hayes set up an online wish list, and said she was overjoyed with the baskets, gifts, and merchandise that started showing up at her doorstep. “My house looks like a Bed, Bath, and Beyond,” she laughed. Once she saw the number of giveaways, she knew she would need more space.
“After we sold out Mimmo’s, I started to panic and think, ‘Where are we going to put all these baskets?’ My cousin is close to the guy who owns the MAX Challenge located right next door to Mimmo’s, and he donated his room to us to set up all the baskets and games on event day. It really is such a community effort.”
For Hayes, fervor surrounding the event is bittersweet; she’s at once humbled, uplifted, and plaintive. But even amid immense pain, she explained that through Project Juliet, she knows her daughter’s legacy lives on.
“She was only here a short time, but she had such an impact on all of our lives,” she said. “In many ways, I’m still raising her through Project Juliet. I’ve had many jobs in my life, but working for her and being her mom was my favorite. That is why I must always continue her legacy and make sure others remember her, too. Whenever anyone sees a ladybug, I hope they think of Juliet.”
To support Project Juliet, visit projectjuliet.com
Hear more of the Hayes Family’s story on Healthwish,
facebook.com/SIUHospital Mimmo’s Brick Oven & Trattoria
mimmosbrickoven.com / 718.967.6560