Precious Time with Lost Angels

Kathy Teeter (left) and Heather Troutt, R.N., clinical manager of Women and Children’s Services, are grateful that generous donors helped purchase the CuddleCots to support grieving families.

A baby’s birth is usually a time of joy and celebration, but on rare occasions life can be unexpectedly short and fleeting. Such was the case for Sofia Noelle Sakura Espinoza, and her parents, Kathy Teeter and Chris Espinoza. Tragically, Sofia was stillborn, just three days before a scheduled C-section at NorthBay Medical Center.

At such times, it is a priceless gift for bereaved parents to be able to spend as many moments as possible with their little angels, Kathy noted. This extra time allows families to bond with their babies and helps them cope with their loss. Technology is available to extend that precious time and it is just appearing at hospitals across the United States. The time-extending device is called a CuddleCot, and thanks to several generous donors, it is now at NorthBay Medical Center, should the unfortunate happen here.

“Up until the day before her birth, we thought everything was OK,” recalled Kathy, a lab technician at the Center for Primary Care in Fairfield. “We had a regular visit with our doctor and were sent home for the weekend, with a plan to return for another check-up on Monday and a scheduled C-section delivery on Thursday.”

This extra time allows families to bond with their babies and helps them cope with their loss.

But Kathy noticed Sophia wasn’t moving on Sunday, so she returned to the hospital’s Labor & Delivery department for non-stress tests. “As the nurses put the monitor on and kept adjusting it around—searching—a sense of doom fell over me. They called in the doctor, and she searched, and then called for an ultrasound tech to help. The doctor grabbed my hand as they both kept searching. But I knew. Sophia was gone.”

The surgery to deliver Sophia was routine, Kathy said, but so very different from her other two C-sections, years earlier.

“It was so silent. There were no loud newborn cries, no congratulations, no lullaby tune playing overhead as is the NorthBay tradition. Just an eerie silence as she was separated from me, cleaned up and brought over for us to see. She was a sleeping beauty.”

Now, they were left—not with hopes of a lifetime of memories to share with their newest family member—but with only a tiny bit of time. “Sophia stayed with me while I recovered from the C-section, so we could hold her, take pictures, and basically say our goodbyes. Deb Kight was my nurse, and I will always remember her kindness and compassion. She bathed and dressed Sophia as she would any other baby, and she arranged for a photographer from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Foundation to take pictures, and Deb made hand and footprints from molds for keepsakes.”

To extend the time these “angels” can spend with family, they need to have their bodies cooled to deter unsettling changes. “I knew from my personal experience that NorthBay didn’t have the CuddleCot at the time we lost Sophia, but learned they are available in hospitals overseas.”

The CuddleCot’s cooling pad can be placed in a crib, bassinet or bed. The pad is connected to a specially insulated hose and cooling unit, and it helps delay the natural changes that come with death.

“I had heard a radio personality share how he had a stillborn baby girl, and he donated a CuddleCot in his daughter’s name as a way of remembering her. I believe NorthBay is a community leader and should have this technology just now showing up in hospitals around the United States. But, one of the greatest challenges with stillbirths is getting past the ‘silence.’ You often find that people don’t want to speak of the lost baby, as if they never existed. It has taken me a long time to open up, but I thought it might be a great idea if I could find a way to donate a CuddleCot to NorthBay in Sophia’s name.”

So, Kathy reached out to Colleen Knight, program coordinator and executive assistant in NorthBay Healthcare Foundation, asking how a fundraiser might be undertaken.

Ironically, Kathy’s question arrived just as the Foundation was about to hold one of its largest fund-raising events—Open That Bottle Night—for the largest supporters of the Solano Wine & Food Jubilee, which supports NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement. Colleen asked Katie Lydon, director of NorthBay Women and Children’s Services, to explain to the guests how a CuddleCot could help mothers and family members deal with the loss of a baby. Physicians with NorthBay Neonatology Associates, after learning of the device, had already pledged a certain amount to purchase one, Katie told the crowd. Would the guests there on that night be willing to match their pledge?

The response was overwhelming and immediate. Foundation Board members Stanley Davis and Al Shaw, along with his wife, Patt, wrote checks on the spot. Enough money was raised to purchase two of the special devices, one for Labor & Delivery and one for Emergency Services.

“The guests had never thought about their donations to NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement impacting Labor and Delivery,” Katie noted. “They felt an obvious, immediate connection to the concept of allowing more time for families to say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to their sweet babies. The CuddleCot is an opportunity to offer the gift of time with their child and their dreams for their family. This is a compassionate cause; our community rose up to support it as they have so many times before. Impressive and overwhelming, for sure.”

“I am overwhelmed that there was such a quick response to this suggestion,” Kathy said. “It truly shows how caring and compassionate NorthBay and our supporters are. I am very pleased we now have a way to make a difficult situation a bit more bearable for families as they strive to process their loss.”

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