Benefield: A Ukiah teen turns to softball to help grieving families
On the face of it, Tara and Andrew Sellars had months to prepare.
Well into their pregnancy with their third child, Tara and Andrew learned they would be having a boy. In that test in which they learned his gender, they were also told the baby likely had Trisomy 13, a fatal chromosomal condition.
Additional tests to confirm the devastating diagnosis took time. Their son wasn’t in pain and was still alive, so the couple decided Tara would try to carry him to term.
And during the pregnancy, Tara and Andrew and their extended family did their best to bring their unborn son, to be named Emrys, places a baby should experience: They took excursions from their home in Ukiah to Blue Lake for a massive family picnic. They went to San Francisco. They rode the merry-go-round. And after years together, Tara and Andrew got married.
“We carried each other. We tried to live in the moment,” Andrew Sellars said.
When Emrys was born on Aug. 16, 2016, his life, and his death, passed in a blur. Emrys was breathing when he was born, but died minutes after his birth.
Tara and Andrew held their son for as long as they could.
“I imagine we had about three hours with him,” Andrew Sellars said.
But an infant’s body breaks down faster than an adult’s after death, according to officials at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Hospital, where Emrys was born. The family praised the staff of the hospital for giving them all the time they could, but how a tiny body deteriorates after death is not something even the most generous staff can stave off.
“The seconds, they melted away and you realize, ‘My baby is not really here,’” Andrew Sellars said. “At the end of it, it was almost like it didn’t happen. It’s done now.”
Sellars’ younger sister, Jessika Ramos —a standout softball player on the Ukiah High team — was there at the hospital when her first nephew was born. She saw her brother and sister-in-law bravely navigate the moments after Emrys’s birth when they invited her to hold her nephew. His older sister, Rhiley, sang to him. His grandmother held him.
It just wasn’t enough to properly process the loss.
“(Staff) gave us all the time we needed,” Jessika Ramos said. “We unfortunately didn’t get enough time with him. I don’t want another family to go through that.”
So Ramos started investigating options for families like hers.
“I did a lot of research on what Trisomy 13 is,” she said. “I just saw that some people were using Cuddle Cots and I wanted to know what it is.”
Cuddle Cots are a transportable cooling system that give families more time with a baby who has died. If Tara and Andrew Sellars had access to one, they could have said goodbye to their son on a timeline that allowed Tara to be free of the nausea, pain and medication that she was dealing with as a result of her cesarean delivery.
“What the Cuddle Cot does is keep the body cool; they can take the baby out, hold him, say their goodbyes and put him back. It extends that period of time that the family can have with the baby,” said Willow Anderson, communication director with the hospital.