Erica Willenbring CuddleCot

Erica Willenbring holds up a part of the CuddleCot, a device that helps preserve the remains of a deceased baby, giving mourning parents and relatives more time with the child.

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REXBURG — A set of triplets who lived just a few minutes following birth are leaving a legacy at Idaho hospitals thanks to their mother. She's on a mission to donate the cooling device CuddleCot to all Gem State medical facilities.

The CuddleCot is a small temperature reduction machine tucked inside a Moses basket that helps maintain a deceased infant's body. The CuddleCot provides family members with some time to grieve while spending time with the baby. Normally families haven't had that time because of the rapidly changing condition of the baby's body after it has passed away.

The triplets’ mother, Boise-based Erica Willenbring, donated the device to Madison Memorial Hospital officials on Monday. Last November she formed the Little Joys Remembrance Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides CuddleCots to Idaho hospitals for babies that don't live following birth.

The CuddleCots cost around $3,000, and to thank Willenbring for her donation, hospital officials gave her $1,000 toward the foundation.

“We feel so strongly about this program, and what you've brought to our hospital, that we want to pay it forward,” said registered nurse Jill Clawson, who helps with the hospital's infant bereavement program.

Willenbring thanked the hospital for the donation and said it would go toward providing another CuddleCot at Idaho Falls-based Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

“We are halfway to funding one at ERIMC. This will definitely go toward funding it. This will help a lot,” she said.

Madison has it's own bereavement program for families that have lost babies shortly following birth. Hospital officials often send home stuffed animals and memory books with the family to help siblings cope following the death. An Archer cemetery donated a plot of land specifically for what's often referred to as “angel babies” who've been born at 20 weeks into their mother's pregnancy.

“Many people have been touched by a stillborn or a loss. Everyone's been touched by it,” Clawson said.

So far four angel babies have been buried at the Archer Cemetery.

“There's no charge. Actually Idaho Monument donated the headstone, and the cemetery donated the plot. The local funeral homes have been great to transport the bodies for us,” Clawson said.

Clawson was thrilled to hear from Willenbring and for her willingness in donating the CuddleCot. Clawson said that it's people like Willenbring who, through their own experience, can now help other families grieve their angel babies.

“It's these people like Erica who teach us and truly make the difference,” she said.

Three years ago Willenbring was about five months pregnant when she went into labor with her triplets that she named Falon, Ruby and Jack. Falon lived 45 minutes while Ruby and Jack survived 15 minutes.

“I had an ultrasound appointment, and nine days later I was in the hospital in labor. There was no turning back,” she said. “They don't have any medical intervention at 20 weeks. Each weighed just under a pound.”

Willenbring and her husband also had a 17-month-old daughter at the time.

“Time is always the topic that comes up with families. This machine is the only thing that offers it,” Willenbring said.

Willenberg wishes she had picture of her daughter with the triplets, and had there been a CuddleCot that would have been possible.

“With this a lot of the regrets go away. It's just telling families that 'you can bond with your baby,'” she said.

After the loss of her triplets, Willenbring went on to have a “rainbow baby,” a term to describe a baby who was born and survived following the death of a previous baby. That baby, her son, is now 2 years old.

About a year and a half following the loss of her triplets, Willenbring came across information on the CuddleCot while searching the internet. At the time she wasn't ready emotionally to delve into what she calls “such a world of passing.”

Eventually she felt the need to pay it forward by setting up her foundation.

“I was wanting to give back. There is this comfort in knowing, doing something and having more time with your baby,” she said.

Willenbring formed her nonprofit in November and since that time has raised money to place four of the devices in Gem State Hospitals.

Created in England, CuddleCots are found in 90 percent of United Kingdom hospitals. They are found in 500 United States medical facilities, but those are mainly on the east coast, where CuddleCot has a facility.

“They have a long way to go. There are 5,000 hospitals in the U.S.,” Willenbring said.

For now her focus is providing the CuddleCots in Idaho hospitals.

“There are about 40 hospitals that need them,” Willenbring said.

Willenbring named her organization “Little Joys Remembrance Foundation” to honor those Angel Babies in a positive way.

“I didn't want to always grieve them. I wanted to celebrate them. Calling them 'Little Joys' acknowledges that they brought a smile to your face. They brought you moments of happiness,” she said.

The organization hosts events throughout the year to honor those lost babies. It hosts a “River of Roses” at the Boise River to celebrate the angel babies. There's also a festival of trees in Boise where a decorated Christmas tree is set up to honor the deceased children.

Hospital official Doug McBride said that he was thrilled to receive Willenbring's donation and said it will be a positive for parents who have suffered the loss of a newborn.

“The death of a baby is something you never want to happen. To have this extra time with an infant means everything to those moms and families,” he said. “It's a great opportunity to have a product like this that helps these moms and babies to have that bonding experience with their baby.”

For more information on the foundation visit www.littlejoysremembrancefoundation.org or call 208-298-9340.