Abby Lackey, an associate professor of communications at Jackson State Community College, turned a personal tragedy into an endeavor to comfort families who have suffered through stillborn births, miscarriages and sudden infant death syndrome.
She launched Heaven’s Cradle in 2011, and because of her efforts, she will receive West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation’s 2015 Dr. A. Barnett Scott Service Award for her selfless contributions to the community. She will be recognized at the foundation’s Charity Gala on Nov. 14 at the Carl Perkins Civic Center – an event attended by more than 700 people.
The award honors the legacy of a longtime West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation board member and past chairman. Each year, its staff selects a volunteer who has served the foundation and the community in an altruistic way.
“I am extremely humbled and honored,” Lackey said. “I feel it should go to a whole community of people. Child loss is an isolating experience, and I hope this award raises awareness to help others.”
Lackey founded Heaven’s Cradle after the death of her son, Davis. She knew something was wrong during a routine ultrasound in June 2011 when his heartbeat could not be found. The doctor soon confirmed her worst fear: her son had died. He was delivered, stillborn, weighing about a pound.
“We got to spend a little time with him, and we got to hold him,” Lackey said. “He was our baby, just like any other baby. He was tiny, but he was our baby.”
Heaven’s Cradle helps families grieve and cope with the sudden loss of a child. The organization provides grace bags – filled with matching blankets, casting kits for hand and feet moldings, a journal and gown, and other items – to help families memorialize their loved ones.
“We raise money to help people make a lifetime of memories in an hour or a day,” Lackey said.
When a family learns that their child has a fatal medical condition during a routine ultrasound, volunteers from Heaven’s Cradle are called to intervene. They provide support and help mothers plan the details of delivery – from who should be in the room to what people should wear for family portraits.
“We help mothers plan the birth and death of their baby,” Lackey said. “We always try to help them find a way to honor their baby.”
If a child dies unexpectedly – during delivery or later from sudden infant death syndrome – Heaven’s Cradle has grace bags waiting on standby at both Jackson hospitals.
In addition to grace bags, money raised by the organization provides financial assistance to help families with the often unanticipated cost of managing remains in a meaningful way. The funds help pay for burials, cremations, markers and medical bills.
Funds are also used to purchase equipment for health care providers. Heaven’s Cradle recently purchased two cuddle cots – small cooling units for babies who are stillborn or die shortly after birth – for use at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital. The hospital is the first in Tennessee to have the units, of which only 70 are in use across the United States.
The cots were purchased through funds raised at the 3rd annual Twilight Run and Rooftop Rendezvous. The springtime event is the organization’s largest fundraiser.
Lackey also leads an ongoing support group for people who have lost a child. She said she has made some lifelong friends though its members, some of whom are Heaven’s Cradle volunteers.
The organization has helped between 100 and 200 families cope with grief. And every baby’s life has helped the organization improve its services.
“We learn something from every one,” she said. “And with every one, we get a little better.”
Lackey said her experience with the loss of her child was very personal, and she had to do something to remember him. With no Heaven’s Cradle present during her pregnancy, she has only a few snapshots of Davis and limited keepsakes.
“I felt the need to prove to the world that he was real,” she said.
The organization has raised thousands of dollars to support grieving parents and equip health care professionals who work with pregnancy and infant loss. The fund for Heaven’s Cradle was started through West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation in October 2011. Since then, Davis has made a profound impact on the lives of many West Tennessee families through the work of his mother and the organization created in his honor.
“My son’s life led to something wonderful,” Lackey said.
Jackson State Community College supports Lackey’s endeavor to help the community and provide comfort and resources for grieving families, said Marketing and PR Coordinator John McCommon. Her actions signify the character and culture the school strives to foster among its teachers, administrators and students.
“We are proud of Abby and her passion and commitment to serve others through her own adversity,” McCommon said.