06/03/2011 09:00 am ET Updated Aug 03, 2011

Spirituality And Technology: A Social Network For The Seriously Ill?

This story is part of our ongoing feature on spirituality and technology. If you've developed an interesting website, application or podcast series that can help change our inner lives -- or if you've just come across something that you think deserves a wider platform -- email us at riddhi.shah@huffingtonpost.com.

On June 7 this year, baby Brighid would've turned 14. Brighid died nine days after she was born. But her mother's friend Sona Mehring has ensured that her legacy lives on through a website called CaringBridge.org. Started in 1997, CaringBridge aims to help people facing significant health challenges connect with friends and family. It's just like Facebook -- except that statuses about workday boredom are replaced with updates about blood tests and CT scans.

Mehring started the organization after a close friend was rushed to the hospital with a life-threatening pregnancy. Tasked with keeping friends and family updated about her friend's -- and prematurely-born baby Brighid's -- condition, Mehring quickly figured that a website would be more efficient than endless phone calls. Brighid didn't make it, but Mehring realized that an organization that created similar websites held the potential to help millions of families across the world. "It was obvious that CaringBridge could help any family going through a serious health challenge --- not only by letting everyone know what was happening but by bringing that loving, supportive community together," says Mehring.

She named it CaringBridge -- "Bridge" for Brighid.

Since then more than a billion people have visited the 266,000 websites created through the organization. The site is totally free, and is funded almost entirely through individual donations.

People with websites can update their journals, post pictures and read tributes and guestbook entries made by those who visit the site. The sites are often visited by more than just friends and family -- and the words of encouragement, frequently from complete strangers, go a long way in the protracted and frequently disheartening battle against illness. "Ninety nine percent of patients surveyed said that reading the guestbook on their CaringBridge site positively impacted their health journey," says Mehring.

But even in the event that a patient's journey doesn't end in recovery, CaringBridge can become a surprising source of strength and support for grieving family members.

The organization recently launched a mobile version of their website. The CaringBridge app lets people instantly create a private personal website and allows them to access and update their sites without having to use a computer.

Next on the horizon is a digital calender and "care coordination solution" to help ease the logistical difficulty of caring for someone who is severely ill. "There is ample opportunity to more deeply engage and empower the community members who gather to support someone dealing with a health crisis," says Mehring.