What the Bridge Connects

In times of medical crisis, family and friends can pull together to create chains to keep people informed of a loved one's progress.
That can often involve long phone trees. If you remember playing the game telephone when you were younger, you know that information can sometimes become altered during the transmission.
Health problems can be difficult enough to deal with.
With a Web site started eight years ago, Sona Mehring, an UW Eau Claire alumnus, seeks to ease that burden for people all around the globe.
Caring Bridge is a non-profit organization that allows loved ones to open a page that they can add postings to that updates anyone who checks it on the condition of the patient.
Since it's inception in 1997, the Web site has grown to have more than 35,000 pages.
Now there is an average of 1500 added each month.
It all started when self-professed "techie" Sona Mehring encountered a medical crisis.
"A very good friend of mine and her husband were expecting a baby. She developed a life threatening condition and I became the command center of trying to keep everyone up to date with what was going on,” Mehring says. “The brother in Alaska, the relatives in Switzerland… I was very passionate about technology, loved the internet, had done Web sites and I thought I should start a Web site to keep everyone informed."
Baby Brighid only lived nine days, but her legacy grew around the world.
Her Web site grew to become "Caring Bridge" and not only did she lend her name, but her parents donated a portion of her memorials to make the service available to anyone who needed it.
"I like to say the night their baby, Brighid, was born was the night Caring Bridge was born and it instantly became this connection point,” Mehring says.
The site allows families and friends remain close through cancer treatments, newborns in intensive care, accident recovery or the final moments of a person's life.
Mehring says “people come to The Caring Bridge to be able to easily communicate and tell people what's going on. What happens is that people connect on that site. They're joined together in support and help they get is phenomenal."
The non-profit organization is based in Eagan, Minnesota, but Mehring is a Wisconsin native and a 1983 graduate of the Computer Science program at UWEC.
"My passion for technology was born in Phillips Hall at UW-Eau Claire. I just have always embraced the use of technology to help people in their lives,” Mehring says. “It's been great to be able to go from the techie to be able to use it in such a significant way of helping people."
Coming up in Compass on Newscenter 13 at 10 p.m., Anna Wagnild will introduce you to Jessi McIlquham, a junior at Chippewa Falls High School who was injured in the October bus crash.
Her uncle helped to start her site soon after she was taken to Marshfield's St. Joseph's Hospital.
Jessi and her mother were both amazed at how the Web site helped people connect.