ATLANTA — Time is a gift, and so are babies. But sometimes parents are robbed of both those gifts.
That’s why a team of women in Georgia banded together to try to give grieving parents just a little while longer with their babies.
“Kennedy was stillborn. I had her at 36 weeks,” said Heather Wilson.
Wilson was diagnosed with preeclampsia, a pregnancy condition characterized by high blood pressure. While trying to deliver Kennedy, Wilson labored for 26 hours, nearing death herself.
“My blood pressure skyrocketed to stroke levels,” she explained.
After losing Kennedy, Wilson started Kennedy’s Angel Gowns, an organization that turns donated wedding gowns into burial gowns for infants at no charge to the parents.
“As the organization grew, and we really started to do our research, we found out about these cooling devices,” said Wilson.
Those cooling devices are also known as cenotaph cradles or bereavement cradles.
“They're able to maintain the baby's body temperature for up to five days. When you think about when a baby passes away, so suddenly, all you have is those memories that you create right then and there. It gives you the opportunity to have those the goodbye that you would want to have. Not a rush goodbye,” said Wilson.
With the help of Wilson’s long-time friend, Sherress Hicks, the two wanted to add Northside Hospital in Atlanta to the list of places that can offer grieving families an opportunity to cherish their child.
“When Heather had lost Kennedy, it was hard for me just being her friend because I never experienced that before. I didn't know what to say, I know I probably say the wrong things. And, you know, so it affects everyone,” said Hicks who also serves as the president and founder of GA Maternal Fetal Health Alliance.
“Georgia is number two in the United States when it comes to mortality with maternal fetal health,” Hicks said. “I want to support them in any way possible. I want to educate the community.”
The cradles costs about $5,000. Wilson raised the money to donate the cradles to 12 hospitals in several states.
“We started to donate them in honor of our daughter, and all of the baby's gone too soon,” she said.
One baby gone to soon, is baby Ryen, who died at four months old.
“Ryen was not a stillborn, but she passed away from SIDS,” said Ryen’s mother, Jameelah Watkins.
Ryen was born at Northside, so it only seemed right that the cradle would be donated in her honor.
Georgia women donate bereavement cradle to Northside hospital
“It’s a full-circle moment,” said Watkins. “It just gives hope that you know that everything is going to be okay. That all of these babies have a purpose and being able to honor babies with these cooling devices, keeps their legacy alive, keeps their family legacy alive.”
According to Hicks, Northside has an average of 365 babies that pass away a year. Wilson and Hicks hope the cradle can give families chances to do what Wilson couldn’t do; create memories such as handprints, footprints, and take pictures.
“Some might wonder, why would you want that picture?” said Watkins. “But that's all that we have. You know, I have about 40 photos of my baby. That's all I have. And that's all I'm gonna continue to have.”
This is a feeling felt by other mothers who didn't get to be with their child for very long.
“We have two pictures. And unfortunately, one was taken by the funeral home,” Wilson added.
Hicks said the cradle is only one of many initiatives GAMFHA is working on in Georgia.
“It’ll take time to reduce mortality rates in Georgia, but in the meantime, we can at least give the gift of time to families,” she said.
“It literally is the gift of time,” Wilson added.
Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and soon Rhode Island will be among the states that have benefitted from this gift of time. Wilson hopes to continue donating more cradles to hospitals in Georgia as well.