A family raises money to purchase a Cuddlecot for the hospital — a device to help comfort families whose infants are stillborn

Spurred on by both heartbreak and gratitude following a profound loss, a Schuyler County family is ensuring that other families whose infants are stillborn at UR Medicine Thompson Hospital will have as much time as they need to say goodbye.

In memory of their son Bentley, Alyssa and Brett Wicker held a carnival on Mother’s Day this year, raising approximately $2,300 toward the purchase of a cooling device called a CuddleCot. An anonymous donor chipped in the remaining $500.

“The Wickers are a wonderful family. For them to seize their grief and turn it into a force to help other families is a true act of selflessness and generosity,” said Deborah Jones, director of obstetrical nursing. “We are so pleased to help them remember Bentley in such a meaningful way.”

The Wickers’ oldest son, Colt, was 2-1/2 when they were expecting Bentley. Excited to become a big brother, he accompanied them to a routine checkup at the Canandaigua Medical Group in March 2016. The technician was unable to detect a heartbeat, so Alyssa was sent to Thompson for an ultrasound.

“That’s when we found out for sure we’d lost him,” Brett said.

Alyssa was admitted to Thompson a couple days later. She was in labor for two days, and Bentley was delivered on March 15, 2016, at 17 weeks’ gestation.

“We had an amazing group of doctors and nurses who sat with us for those two days and explained every step we went through,” Brett said. “I think the process would have been a lot more difficult for us if it wasn’t for them.”

The nurses encouraged the Wickers to spend as much time with Bentley as they needed.

“They had a really nice blanket they wrapped him in that we were able to keep afterward,” said Alyssa, whom one nurse presented with a teddy bear so she wouldn’t have to leave the hospital with empty arms.

Staff members from Thompson’s Birthing Center called and checked on the Wickers after they returned home, and a couple of the nurses came to the memorial service in Penn Yan.

In the two years that followed, Alyssa experienced two miscarriages before she and Brett welcomed their “miracle baby,” Bennett, at Thompson in June 2018.

But, Bennett’s birth didn’t mark the family’s first return to Thompson since the loss of Bentley. In 2017, they started an annual tradition of marking the anniversary of Bentley’s birth by visiting the Birthing Center and bringing knit baby hats — made at their alpaca farm in Dundee — for other families to take home.

Earlier this year, the Wickers decided they wanted to donate more in memory of their son and asked what the Birthing Center might need. Jones suggested a CuddleCot, which controls the temperature of a baby who has been born still so that a family can spend as much time with the baby as they want.

“Alyssa and I looked at each other and we knew — that’s what we wanted to do,” Brett said.

Now 5 years old, Colt came up with the idea for a carnival with prizes and raffles, and the family teamed up with Climbing Bines Hop Farm & Brewery near Penn Yan for the Mother’s Day event. Approximately 40 local businesses donated gift certificates, gift baskets and artwork for a silent auction and a raffle, with many of the donors remarking they had once experienced pregnancy loss as well.

Mother’s Day was rainy and cold, but the Wickers had as many as 75 people attend the carnival, including the director of the Thompson Foundation and Jones, along with at least one other Thompson nurse and her family. The Wickers brought the $2,300 check to the hospital about a week later and learned of the anonymous donation a couple days after that.

According to Jones, approximately 15 families will benefit each year from the CuddleCot. Without it, she explained, the warmth of the room contributes to rather rapid deterioration of the baby’s fragile skin.

“This will allow us to keep the baby in the mom’s room as long as the family wants, so they can introduce siblings and grandparents, and just know that their baby is surrounded by loving people,” she said.

It helps the Wickers to know Bentley’s name will be on a small plaque mounted on the CuddleCot. It brings them closure, they said, though it’s tempered with sadness because they know what happened to them will happen to other families in the future.

“This will hopefully help them,” Alyssa said. “We had such good care, and I think [the CuddleCot] will just add even more.”

If you have an idea for an event to support Thompson Health, contact the F.F. Thompson Foundation at foundation@thompsonhealth.com or 585-396-6155. The staff would welcome the opportunity to discuss your ideas, and guide you through the steps of planning and organizing an event.