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Couple told to return baby bonus after eight-day-old son dies

Azzura Lalani

By Azzura Lalani, The London Free Press

Ashley Lisabeth and Frank Greco show a picture of their son Emmett who died one year ago from myocarditis. The swing was made by a friend of the family for their memory garden. They will be hosting a walk to remember Emmett and raise awareness about myocarditis this weekend. (MORRIS LAMONT/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network)

Ashley Lisabeth and Frank Greco show a picture of their son Emmett who died one year ago from myocarditis. The swing was made by a friend of the family for their memory garden. They will be hosting a walk to remember Emmett and raise awareness about myocarditis this weekend. (MORRIS LAMONT/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network)

LONDON, Ont. -- A London couple was devastated when their happy, seemingly healthy eight-day-old baby boy died suddenly.

But then the Canada Revenue Agency asked for their baby bonus back, adding insult to injury.

Ashley Lisabeth and her fiance Frank Greco were overjoyed when they found out they were going to have a baby.

"Our whole life changed," said Lisabeth, an office assistant at Anderson's Electronics. "Everything in our life changed because of Emmett. We bought our first house together, we really started thinking about our future."

But eight days after their son, Emmett Richard Greco was born on Aug. 2, 2015, he died from a rare condition called myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart.

Lisabeth and Greco were shattered.

They called the government to say their son had died and the monthly baby bonus cheques - now called the Canada Child Benefit - could stop.

But when they got in touch with a government official, they say they were told they had to return the baby bonus they'd received for August.

"It made us feel upset. Upset and frustrated because, I mean, you just have a baby and you experience all this stuff . . . and it's kind of just taken away from you," said Lisabeth.

A quirk in the Canada Revenue Agency's policy means that if a child is born and dies in the same month, the family's eligibility for any child benefits is negated.

"The eligibility for the Canada Child Benefit ends the month in which the child passes away," said Jelica Zdero, a spokesperson for the CRA. "With this said, if the child is born in one month and passes away in the following month, the parents would be eligible to receive benefits for the first month." If the London couple's baby had been born July 31 and died Aug. 7, they would have been allowed to keep the benefits. But since Emmett was born and died in the same month, his parents were not eligible to keep the benefits they received.

In total, the couple received just under $530 in child care benefits which they had to repay -- a considerable amount for them, said Lisabeth, who'd just bought a house with Greco.

"Losing a child is as difficult as it is," she said. "But they could have some sympathy for families. Either don't make families repay that month, or wait till after their maternity leave is over before asking for that money back."

Their grief was enormous. Greco took a month of unpaid leave from work to deal with the loss. Lisabeth had 15 weeks of paid maternity leave, as well as an additional 15 weeks prescribed by her doctor, but after her maternity leave ended she went back to work to pay the bills.

"We were already under a lot of stress and frustration and having to pay all that back was a big frustration," she said.

The couple is trying to move forward and to keep Emmett's memory alive, said Lisabeth.

On Sunday the first of what's expected to be an annual five-kilometre walk, called the Emmett Greco's Myocarditis walk, will be held to raise money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

"We're hoping to raise hopefully between $7,000 to $10,000," said Lisabeth, adding there will also be a lunch, raffle and information session.

alalani@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/AzzuraLFPress