A Facebook story: A mother's joy and a family's sorrow
Isaac Swers looks into mother Shana Swers's eyes at Virginia Hospital. "I love the way Isaac is looking into Shana's eyes," says husband Jeffrey Swers.
Even before Shana Greatman Swers got pregnant, the 35-year-old married consultant had a habit of posting on Facebook about nearly anything. She loved writing about her husband, Jeff, her friends at work, and the prospect of having a baby. People who knew her followed every turn on the social network, starting when she wrote on March 10 that "Shana Greatman Swers and Jeff are thrilled to announce to the world that little baby Swers will be joining our family this September. Good thing we bought the bigger house!" But the chain of messages that the Gaithersburg resident wrote over the next eight months would ultimately become a modern interactive narrative of the joys of pregnancy and the harrowing uncertainties that develop when medical complications set in. Even in her toughest moments, she tapped out Facebook updates from her iPhone to relatives and friends -- a mix of people from George Washington University, where she went to college; the Corporate Executive Board, her workplace in Rosslyn; and her old buddies from back home in California. With permission from the Swers family, The Washington Post has edited and annotated her Facebook page to tell her story from pre-baby date nights to a medical odyssey that turned the ecstasy of childbirth into a struggle for life.
Shana Greatman, a consultant at the Corporate Executive Board, and Jeff Swers, a scientific researcher for a biotech company, met in 2006 through the dating Web site JDate.com for Jewish singles. Their first date was at the National Gallery; eight months later, they got engaged -- she said yes before he even opened the ring box. Billups, 49, a journalism professor in Michigan and a former Washington Times reporter, knew Shana through Billups's former husband. Billups was hoping the baby would be born on Sept. 17 because that is Billups's birthday.
Talbert, 38, academic director of an Alexandria educational nonprofit group, was Shana's resident adviser at George Washington University in the early 1990s; later, the two lived in the same apartment complex in Arlington County. "Shana always wanted to be a mom and wife. She was so successful in college and law school," Talbert said. "She had all these internships in the Senate, but she always said, 'If money were no object, I wish I could stay at home to be a wife and mother.'"
Shana Greatman Swers had a chocolate malt with dinner because, well, because I'm only going to be pregnant for another 10 days or so.
September 12 at 8:31pm via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Shana Greatman Swers Is awake and getting ready for my last day of work. Just a half-day, then some Red Door pampering and then a trip to the airport to pick up my mom. Getting super excited!!!
September 20 at 6:15am via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Shana had a close relationship with her mother, Dana Greatman, 65, of Lancaster, Calif., especially after Shana's father, Lawrence Greatman, a secondary-school teacher, passed away in 2008 from lung cancer. "When I landed at the airport that day, there she and Jeff were waiting for me. Her smile was as big as sunshine, and she was as full as could be," Greatman recalled in an interview. "The only sadness was that Larry wasn't going to be there for it."
Shana Greatman Swers ...and we are off to the hospital! Updates later today from either me or Jeff.
September 22 at 6:11am • Like • Comment
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Rachel Talbert I hope that since this post was 13 hours ago there is already a new Swers in the house -if not then dear baby Swers please hurry up Mom and Dad are waiting!
September 22 at 7:19pm • Like
Rachel Talbert 5 days early he takes after his mommy!
September 22 at 7:20pm • Like
Shana Greatman Swers Isaac Lawrence Swers was born on Wednesday a little after 8:30 in the evening. He is 8 lbs 4 oz and 20.5 inches long. He has a full head of dark hair. He is, of course, perfect. Thanks for all the good thoughts you've sent our way for the past nine months. We feel truly blessed.
September 23 at 2:26am via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Jean Carstensen Congratulations, I hope you and Isaac are doing well. Can't wait to meet him.
September 23 at 7:45am • Like
Carstensen, 35, a Kansas pediatrician, met Shana on their first day of college, and they quickly became good friends. When Carstensen, who is now pregnant herself, had two miscarriages, Shana was one of the first people she told. Shana also confided in her: "After she and Jeff got married, I knew they were trying to get pregnant," Carstensen said. "And she was worried she wasn't going to be able to have kids. She was so excited about Isaac because adoption was so scary to her."
Shana Greatman Swers apologies that she and Jeff haven't been able to keep everyone updated on the events of the past 48 hrs - and that this note is really impersonal, but it is the fastest way to send word: .
September 27 at 7:31pm via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Shana Greatman Swers after a very scary weekend that involved post-partum cardiac myopothy, I have turned a corner and will be fine. I'm still in ICU, but feel 100% better. Isaac is perfect, and home with Jeff and his grandmas. We hope to all be together again by Wednesday or Thursday. Thank you for all of your good thoughts and prayers. I promise that your love is deeply felt and appreciated
September 27 at 7:31pm • Like
Andrea Billups Thinking of you princess. Love you much. xoxo
September 28 at 12:02am • Like
Shana Greatman Swers just found out I'm not getting out of the hospital today. Stuck here for at least another day. Can't remember being this disappointed in a very long time. Just want to get home to precious Isaac...
September 29 at 11:46am via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Catherine Choe Such a bummer, but it's one day in a lifetime, and it's for your health. Hang in there!!!
September 29 at 5:07pm • Like
Andrea Billups Rest, princess. You'll have a lot of sleep-deprivation ahead. I am thinking of you and wishing I could be there to visit you and your beautiful boy.
September 29 at 10:56pm • Like
Shana Greatman Swers is getting out of the hospital!! Discharge will take a bit, but we are headed out. Thanks again for all the wonderful wishes, thoughts and prayers.
September 30 at 1:19pm via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Shana Greatman Swers : this time last week I was in the ICU. Now I'm home with my family (and Jean!) prepping for Isaac's bris. While this isn't how we planned things, I must admit: life is good.
October 3 at 1:08pm • Like • Comment
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In true Shana style, even her son's bris was an intricately planned party. Guests nibbled on blue and white M&Ms with the words "Isaac Lawrence" on them, Carstensen said. "It was controlled chaos," she said. "Shana is a fantastic party thrower. But she was getting winded walking up and down the stairs -- and could not carry her own baby up them."
Shana Greatman Swers : how is it possible that I'm a new mom and I have insomnia? Can't sleep for anything!
October 12 at 1:19am • Like • Comment
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Shana Greatman Swers Back in the ER. Yes. Seriously. Call jeff if you need anything.
October 12 at 6:03pm via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Dana Greatman My Sweet Lady - I'm sitting here knowing that all will be Ok. Hope to talk with Jeff soon. Hang in there Cookie...I love you, Mommy
October 12 at 7:28pm • Like
Jeffrey Swers I know many of you are concerned about Shana. She is out of the ER. They feel that all that is needed is further adjustment of her meds. She sees the cardiologist tomorrow, hopefully he has a better idea of what we need to do to get Shana on the right track for good.
October 12 at 9:54pm • Like
Shana Greatman Swers : Im starting to go a bit stircrazy in our house. So many of you have been so generous in offering to cook, run errands, etc. But what I'd really love now is just some old-fashioned company. I can't stay up or talk long, but i would love to see you for 30 minutes this weekend or next week...
October 15 at 9:49am via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Brian Lee Hey! I'm actually taking today off. Would love to drop by and see you, Isaac and the new place! Let me know...
October 15 at 9:57am • Like
Shana Greatman Swers The place is a bit of a mess, but we would love to see you. Does 2:00 work? You can head home before traffic...
October 15 at 10:00am • Like
Brian Lee Sounds good!
October 15 at 10:08am • Like
Dana Greatman Hi Honey - Been trying to reach anyone at home and no one is picking up. Can you give me a call.
October 15 at 10:13am • Like
Dana Greatman Good morning Sweet Lady - It was so wonderful to receive your phone call last night. I hope that you were able to get some good sleep last night and that this morning is going well. I love you to the moon and back again,
October 16 at 10:13am • Like
Shana Greatman Swers If it is Tuesday, it must be the ER. Doctor is sending us back to the hospital this evening. And I had just started to feel a bit better, too...
October 19 at 5:57pm via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Catherine Choe If you're feeling better, why, oh why, do you have to go to the ER??? I'm glad your mom is there. This must completely bite the big one, but hang in there.
October 19 at 6:02pm • Like
Jeffrey Swers Looks like they just cannot get the balance between keeping her dehydrated because of the congestive heart failure and keeping her hydrated because loss of too much fluid is bad. Lets hope they figure it out tonight.
October 19 at 6:38pm • Like
As Shana's ordeal worsened and became more mysterious, Jeff said a doctor jolted him with hard-to-accept news: They could no longer have children. "We had wanted two, maybe three children," Jeff said."Shana was born to be a mom."
Shana Greatman Swers feels like I'm under attack and losing... I'm back in the ICU at Virginia Hospital Center. I will be here for days. I just want to be home with my family.
October 20 at 4:15am via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Jean Carstensen Hang in there. It is really rotten luck, that is all. Thinking of you. Will try and call a little later.
October 20 at 7:51am • Like
Shana Greatman Swers They are going to let me eat! I've never been so excited for hospital food!!
October 22 at 9:15am via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Shana Greatman Swers Would rather be anywhere but the hospital, but I would especially rather be at Laura and Ryan's wedding or my 10year law school reunion. My love to everyone. Hope you have a great time tonight!!
October 23 at 5:54pm via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Jeffrey Swers Shana is going through a rough time in the hospital. To cheer her up, post a memory or funny story that lets her know why she is special to you. I will start with the story of our first July 4th together. I said we should have a cookout, thinking we would just make some hot dogs. Shana put out a full spread complete with plastic silverware wrapped in napkins with a bow. I knew that she was something special.
October 24 at 3:30pm • Like • Comment
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Brooke Blanchard Rees Hey Shana! How are you?? Any news yet?? We are all thinking of you and praying for you. Stay strong, you will be home soon!
October 25 at 10:44am • Like • Comment
Shana Greatman Swers I'm still in the hospital, hoping to get out tomorrow or Wednesday at the latest. Very exhausting stay - trying to balance the cardiac meds with what my kidneys need. And i still have to have my gall bladder pit when my heart is stronger. Not fun. Thanks for checking in, though!!
October 25 at 10:38pm • Like
Brooke Blanchard Rees I am so sorry your still there, hopefully you will now be on the fast track for healing! I never had a long stay after being diagnosed, but I had several short stays and they were very frustrating! Do you know what your current Ejection Fraction is??? Praying for you.
October 25 at 11:08pm • Like
Shana Greatman Swers can't sleep. Argh!
October 26 at 12:56am via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Tracy Davis Bradley Hospitals are horrible for sleeping. I hope you are feeling better. I'll be checking into to Virginia Hospital Center on Thursday. I hope that you'll be home before then.
October 26 at 12:51pm • Like
Shana Greatman Swers is not going home. Everything was going great and then today random, horrible stabbing pain in my belly. This stinks.
October 26 at 5:06pm via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Andrea Billups hang in there princess. better days are coming. i am sending you a big hug!!!!
October 26 at 5:11pm • Like
Rachel Talbert Shana are you up for any other food I can bring you-or beverages since the belly hurts? Or I can order the dancing bears for entertainment or perhaps jalapenos....You are going to kick this thing!
October 26 at 6:04pm • Like
Billups, who was communicating with Shana on Facebook from her home office in Haslett, Mich., said she and Shana always teased each other for being "princessy" because they liked the color pink. "I had no sense that her condition was going downhill so fast," she said.
Shana Greatman Swers While many of my health issues are clearing up and I'm feeling a bit better. My docs are concerned that my heart has shown no improvement. So tomorrow morning I'm being transferred to Hopkins for further evaluation and testing. Scary, to be sure, but a good thing overall.
October 28 at 12:56am via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Billups was now getting very worried. "It wasn't until she was being transferred to Hopkins that I wrote Jean and said, 'What is going on?'" she said.
Talbert had just gotten to her Silver Spring home from Johns Hopkins that night and felt depressed. Shana's heart was not pumping enough blood and was failing, symptoms of her peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare disorder. "Doctors weren't holding out much hope and said that overnight would tell the tale," she said. "It felt normal to talk with Shana through Facebook because she always carried her iPhone. I never got the sense that there was any real divide in her world between her friends and family and what she would do privately."
Shana Greatman Swers passed away Sunday, October 31, 2010 shortly before noon. She was surrounded by her loving family and friends. Information on services will follow.
October 31 at 11:56am via iPhone • Like • Comment
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Dan Currell Shana, the kids prayed for you tonight, for Isaac, and for Jeff. I know how much you love children - one of the last things I remember you saying to me, "I love the Annex Staff" - they have been praying for you for weeks. Tonight they prayed for Miss Shana in Heaven, and as children do, they took your passing with consideration, but without understanding. I think they are too alive to understand it. Isaac -- one who laughs - Sarah's only son -- what a beautiful name for a beautiful child. With your great gifts and Jeff's, he will be an amazing man. You have left so many things to all of us, and you have left a great legacy in him, too.
October 31 at 10:37pm • Like • Comment
Currell, an executive director at the Corporate Executive Board, who works out of his home in Minnesota, calls his home office "The Annex" and his children "The Annex Staff." Shana got to know the Currell family when she visited their home during work trips. "She met my kids, my wife, and she was a 'connector,' to use the Malcolm Gladwell term," Currell said. "At the funeral, we learned that, and everyone was describing her the same way, and she was the person everyone knew."
Shana Greatman Swers will be remembered Wednesday (11/3) afternoon at 1:30pm. Funeral service to be held at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD. For directions, please go to http://www.bethami.org/. Burial will follow at the Garden of Remembrance cemetary in Clarksburg, MD. All are welcome following the ceremony at the Swers home. The Swers & Greatman families are grateful for the outpouring of love and support.
November 1 at 12:25pm • Like • Comment
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During the service, Jeff sat in the front row, stretching out his arm and holding onto the corner of Shana's casket. Isaac was propped up in his stroller, crying. At the cemetery, after Shana had been lowered into the earth, relatives and friends participated in an important Jewish burial custom honoring the dead: They passed around a shovel, taking turns to pour dirt on her coffin.
DESIGN: Grace Koerber - The Washington Post. Dec. 9, 2010.