I was reminded about an invaluable resource last week. At some point in our lives, most of us have experienced the struggle to keep friends and family members informed when a loved one is experiencing a serious health event.

CaringBridge is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides free websites to connect family and friends during the health crisis and recovery.

“Its mission is to bring together a global community of care, powered by the love of family and friends, in an easy, accessible and private way. CaringBridge saves time and energy by centralizing communication and easing the burden of updating everyone during a health event. Each CaringBridge website is unique - authors select their website design and add journal entries and photos to share their story while visitors leave messages in the guestbook, creating a network of support for the patient.”

This valuable networking venue has become even more important with the recent H1N1 virus alert. But this applies for anyone whose immune system is already compromised because of a health condition or is at any stage of an illness, a hospital visit can be detrimental for both the visitor and patient. With hospitals enforcing tougher restrictions with visitation, CaringBridge facilitates communication for family and friends while reducing exposure. At some hospitals, a staff person that can help the patient or family member create their own virtual hospital room on CaringBridge.

It is available 24 hours a day so family and friends can communicate freely. According to the CaringBridge website, there are over half a million people who connect on to the website daily and over 1 billion visits have been made to date to the website.

The organization states their community now includes website authors, visitors and donors in all 50 states and more than 215 countries and territories around the world.

The following is the story of how CaringBridge got started. It is directly from their website: “In 1997, founder Sona Mehring’s close friend suffered a life-threatening pregnancy. To keep family and friends informed about the critical situation, Sona and friends created a website.

The site allowed family members to communicate information to a wide circle of people without disturbing the mother’s need for rest or placing additional demands on hospital staff

Baby Brighid was born almost three months premature. With her mother in critical condition, the one-pound preemie was quickly rushed to the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The family posted daily news about mom and Brighid on the website. An accompanying online guestbook enabled visitors to send the family messages of love and encouragement.

Sadly, Brighid’s story does not have a happy ending. After a nine-day struggle against tremendous odds, she died in surgery.

The website allowed the family to convey this saddest of news without the painful burden of several emotional phone calls. The parents also had a place to post a final message to honor Brighid and their supportive online community.

Brighid’s death prompted an outpouring of loving messages to the family. They immediately understood that other patients dealing with the birth of a premature baby, childhood cancer or other critical illness would benefit from the same web resources.

A memorial fund, created in Brighid’s memory, enabled Children’s Hospital in St. Paul to dedicate a computer and Internet access for patients and families wishing to create their own online communities. And CaringBridge was born.”

You can help spread the word about CaringBridge. What a valuable conduit to provide continual support to friends and family. For the patient, can there be better therapy and healing than reading the words from those who care?

Many hospitals and medical centers across the country are sponsors and share the information about CaringBridge to their patients and their family and friends.

More than 30 million families depend on CaringBridge. As a charitable organization, it relies on the generosity of contributors to ensure its websites continue as a free service and available for families when needed.

You can donate online or by mail to the following address: CaringBridge Donation Processing Center PO Box 131447 Houston, TX 77219-1447 For more information, log onto www.caringbridge.org.

Mary Garza Cummings is a freelance writer. The Town Crier does not warrant the information as valid. It is the responsibility of the reader to ensure validity of the information. For comments email askseniorfocus@aol.com