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Minnesota siblings, each experiencing infant loss, raise funds for Cuddle Cots

Nikki McLendon holds a photo book filled with images of her daughter, Paisley, who was stillborn at nearly 33 weeks, along with a Molly Bear. The bears are made to weigh the exact amount as the baby lost -- this bear weighs 4 pounds, 13.5 ounces, Paisley's birthweight. (Julie Buntjer / Daily Globe)1 / 4
This is featured on the front of the T-shirts being sold to raise money to purchase Cuddle Cots for babies who are stillborn. (Special to the Daily Globe)2 / 4
Shown is one version of a Cuddle Cot. There are different options for the bassinet, but the primary cost is in the cooling system that attaches to the bassinet. (Special to the Daily Globe)3 / 4
These are the words on the back of the T-shirts being sold to raise money to purchase two Cuddle Cots for the hospitals in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Special to the Daily Globe)4 / 4

LUVERNE, Minn. — A trio of siblings with Adrian roots are taking the tragic loss of their babies due to stillbirths and a miscarriage and turning their pain into a source of comfort for other parents experiencing the same unimaginable setback.

Nikki (Jon) McLendon of Luverne, Krissi (Phil) Butenhoff of Winona, and Tony and Alyssa Thier of Adrian hope to raise $6,000 to purchase two Cuddle Cots — one for Sanford's Birthing Center and the other for the Women's Center at Avera McKennan, both in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The cots, infant bassinets with cooling chambers, are used in hospitals across the country, though Nikki is unaware of any available in the region. They keep a stillborn's body temperature cool, allowing families to spend as much time with their baby as they wish in the privacy of a hospital room.

The McLendons, whose daughter Paisley was stillborn at 32 weeks and six days in 2010, never heard of a Cuddle Cot until they met other parents of stillborns at Faith's Lodge in Wisconsin. The lodge, established by a woman who experienced a stillbirth, brings families together to comfort one another and work through their loss.

While at Faith's Lodge, Nikki learned about Cuddle Cots.

When they lost Paisley, Nikki said they could hold her only for a couple of hours before the doctor or nurse took the baby to a cooling room. The process continued for as long as the parents wanted to spend time with the baby in those first 24 hours, but Nikki said after a while, the baby's coloring was such that either the parents or the nurse would suggest the visits end.

"Unless you go through it, people don't understand," Nikki explained. "People say to take pictures and you kind of question that, but going through it you realize the time you have ... is very precious."

One in every four pregnancies in the U.S. ends in either a miscarriage or stillbirth. It's a statistic Nikki and her siblings weren't aware of until it happened to them.

"We now have a community of friends and you see it more," she said.

To raise money for the Cuddle Cots, the siblings began selling T-shirts May 18 in an online campaign (bit.ly/2rWAFdB). The day would have been Keeston Thier's second birthday. Mom Alyssa had carried him to about 33 weeks in May 2015 when she suspected something was wrong. A visit to the doctor confirmed there was no longer a heartbeat.

Autopsies showed both Keeston and Paisley died after the umbilical cord wrapped around their necks in utero, causing suffocation.

Later in 2015 — just days after Thanksgiving — the Thier family experienced additional loss when Krissi miscarried at 19 weeks. She and her husband named their son Emmett.

"These were freak accidents — things you couldn't prepare for," shared Nikki. Knowing the autopsy results of both Paisley and Keeston, however, has provided the family with needed answers.

"It wasn't because I did something wrong or ate something I wasn't supposed to," Nikki said.

When Tony and Alyssa visited Faith's Lodge following Keeston's stillbirth, they also heard about the Cuddle Cots. When they returned home, they spoke with Nikki and Krissi about raising funds for the local hospital.

Though they asked Sanford Worthington Medical Center about the idea, they learned most women experiencing trauma with a pregnancy are sent to Sioux Falls. That's when they began a conversation with that city's two hospitals.

As of Thursday, May 25 — one week after their online fundraising campaign began — enough funds were raised to purchase the first Cuddle Cot. The fundraiser will end Thursday, June 1. People may contribute by either purchasing a T-shirt or by giving a monetary donation to the cause.

The host site for the fundraiser retains a small percentage of the funds donated, so individuals who want 100 percent of their contribution to go toward the purchase of the cots may contact Nikki via email at nicollette_leigha@hotmail.com for details.

Any funds raised beyond the $6,000 needed to purchase the two Cuddle Cots will be donated to Faith's Lodge in Webster, Wis.

The Thier siblings hope to present checks to Sanford and Avera in the near future so the Cuddle Cots can be purchased. Each bassinet will feature a plaque in memory of Paisley, Keeston and Emmett.

"I hope that can bring peace and calmness and (parents can) know that our angels are watching over them," Nikki said. "You don't want any family to go through this, but if some family has to go through the same thing we had to go through, it's one less thing on their mind. They can spend as much time with that baby as they want to."

Paisley was the McLendon's third and last baby. Krissi and Phil had a baby girl, Tallulah, on March 17, 2016, while Alyssa and Tony welcomed a baby boy, Krewe, in May 2016, one year and one and a half weeks after losing Keeston.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

(507) 376-7330
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