OTTUMWA-“I’m sorry, but there is no heartbeat” is the hardest thing expectant parents will ever hear. “I’m sorry but I must take your baby now” is the second hardest thing they will ever hear. When families must part with their baby before they have had sufficient time to bond and grieve, the results can be devastating. It is because of this, Ottumwa High School senior and Girl Scout Ambassador, Alexandra Reeves, decided she needed to do something. “I have had an interest in healthcare and hope to be a nurse practitioner. Because of my previous community service work with the Ottumwa Regional, I found out they had a large number of stillborn babies in the first part of 2016. The nurses there wanted a “Cuddle Cot” cooling device but were unable to get one.” A Cuddle Cot cools a baby’s body while in the hospital room, extending the time a family has to photograph them, hold them, bond and grieve. In a warm room the baby’s tissues, especially when the baby dies prior to birth, can deteriorate quickly, therefore cooling the baby is absolutely essential.
“I decided to make it part of my Girl Scout Gold Award Project to try to help them get one.” The Gold Award is the highest achievement within the Girl Scouts of the USA. To secure funding for the Cuddle Cot Alexandra contacted several fraternal organizations. She and a nurse from Ottumwa Regional presented to the Ottumwa Evening Lions and they committed the whole amount needed for the Cuddle Cot for Ottumwa Regional. Although her initial goal was just to get enough money to obtain a Cuddle Cot for Ottumwa Regional, she has also secured a commitment from the Lions in Centerville to also place one in the hospital there pending facility approval. She has recently raised the funds for a third Cuddle Cot and has offered it to a third hospital and is eyeing a fourth location.
“I also found out that often relatively few amenities are available to families of stillborns. Parents have difficulty finding clothing suitable for burial, especially for small stillborns born prematurely. Sometimes they are just buried in a towel and this made me sad. I saw other groups who recycled wedding dresses into burial gowns. So I decided to also form of a group called ‘Forever Angels’.” Forever Angels uses volunteer seamstresses to recycle donated wedding dresses into burial gowns (Angel Gowns) for stillborn babies and infants who pass after birth. Alexandra started a Facebook page called Forever Angels. Through postings on this page the group gets dress donations. Alexandra approached sewing groups like the Ottumwa Quilting Guild in the area about sewing for the project but now also get seamstresses by word of mouth.
“Initially I wanted to get enough dresses and seamstresses to sew Angel gowns for Ottumwa Regional. Very quickly I knew I would be able to expand well beyond this. Forever Angels has received over 40 wedding dresses and has over 20 seamstresses and dresses just keep coming.”
Forever Angels will be holding an Angel Dress Showcase” on Sunday, January 22nd from 1-3pm at the Rural Health Education Center on the Indian Hills Campus in Ottumwa. It is hoped that dress donors, seamstresses, financial sponsors and others who have contributed in some way to the project as well as the general public will attend to support the mission of Alexandra’s project and to see the first group of dresses before they are sent to area hospitals. “I hope people will come and see how beautiful and perfect the dresses are for their purpose.”
Forever Angels will continue to provide dresses to hospitals as long as dresses and seamstresses are available. “Support for the project has been awesome. I have seen it already have an impact on dress donors and seamstresses and even though no families have used a Cuddle Cot yet or received an Angel Gown, I hope my project will bring families some comfort.” Individuals may find more information on the project on the Forever Angels Facebook page.
From advertising the Angel Dress Showcase, Forever Angels has received several additional requests to donate wedding dresses and at this time has enough dresses in stock as dress storage space is limited. Forever Angels is temporarily suspending taking additional wedding dress donations until more dresses can be processed. Interested individuals may watch the Facebook page to see when donations will be accepted again.