Everyday Heroes: Milwaukie couple raises money to purchase Cuddle Cots for hospitals

Cuddle Cot - KATU photo

MILWAUKIE, Ore. – A Milwaukie couple who suffered the deaths of two of their children during and shortly after childbirth helped raise more than $25,000 to ease the grief of other couples going through the same thing.

Carly and Nick Itami were as excited as any parents could be when they began to build their family seven years ago.

But, in-utero problems that put Carly on bedrest ended with a still birth of their daughter, Evelyn June, in November 2011.

“We were only able to be with her for a few brief hours. And less than nine hours after entering the hospital, we were discharged without our baby and it was very hard,” Carly said.

Oregon law allows parents to stay up to 24 hours with a child who dies in childbirth at the hospital. But often, the baby’s body must be transferred back and forth between the hospital room and the morgue to delay decomposition.

“It puts a lot of strain on a mother’s grieving heart and a family’s grieving heart to know that a baby is somewhere in the hospital not being held, not being touched by them,” Carly said.

Despite genetic testing to make sure their second pregnancy ended well, their second daughter, Mary Grace, survived just a short eight weeks before she too died.

The Itamis were able to take her home for 24 hours to say goodbye.

“Had we had the Cuddle Cot in that situation, we probably wouldn’t have needed to transport her home. But it was not an option at that time at that hospital,” Carly said.

Cuddle Cots allow parents to keep their child in their room at the hospital for a precious 24 hours to say goodbye without trips back and forth to the morgue.

“There’s distilled water that runs from a cooling unit through hoses to a cooling mat at the bottom of the basinet. And when the baby is placed on that, it keeps the body temperature regulated,” Carly explained.

Earlier this week, the Itamis, with the help of a fundraising effort by themselves and Clackamas County Grange Halls, donated the first of seven Cuddle Cots to Providence Saint Vincent Hospital.

“Our story has compelled an amazing community of supporters that understand what this means to our community and what it means to every family that’s experiencing loss,” Carly said.

Nick Itami said his wife spearheaded the effort to raise as much money as possible to buy the cots, which cost about $3,000 each when purchased by individuals or non-profit groups.

The Warner Grange Hall in Canby raised $21,000 in one night by holding an auction.

“The way that she deals with grief and loss is she just wants to stay active and making a positive impact in other people’s lives,” Nick said.

Labor and delivery nurse Nicole Van Domelen said that last year, 23 babies died at Providence Saint Vincent Hospital.

“From the moment I heard about them, I knew that we needed one. It would be a great addition to the things we do for these grieving families,” she said. “This is one more thing that we can do is give them time. These families need more time with their babies. Cuddle Cots would make it so there wasn’t a lot of back and forth between the room and the morgue.”

Today, the Itamis have two healthy children. A boy, 16-month-old Nickson, and a girl, 3-year-old Hope.

The Cuddle Cot donated to the hospital includes a plaque honoring their two girls who died.

By easing the grief of parents, they also hope to dispel the taboo of talking and actively grieving for these children.

“We’re trying to change that paradigm of our community and our society. And in doing that, we are able to honor all these babies, all these little angels,” Carly said.

The second of seven Cuddle Cots will be donated next week to Legacy Emanuel Hospital. The others will go to more Portland-area hospitals in the coming weeks.

The grange halls involved in the fundraising have established a GoFundMe site online.

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