Camden Mom Donates Tiny Angel Gowns to NICU

By Linda Satter

“My mom would always tell me, ‘If you see a butterfly, that’s somebody from Heaven coming to see you, and that’s God sending a sign,’” she said.

Clark let her mother’s words sink in, feeling some encouragement.

“And then a few weeks later, as I was having another hard day, here comes this little blue butterfly again,” she said, smiling at the memory.

A close-up of the 100,000th gown made from wedding dresses and donated to hospitals by Angel. It was among those donated to the UAMS NICU.

A close-up of the 100,000th gown made from wedding dresses and donated to hospitals by Angel. It was among those donated to the UAMS NICU.

But it wasn’t until several weeks later, when she, her husband, Seth, and their nearly 2-year-old son, Owen, were outside playing, and another little blue butterfly landed on Owen’s nose, making him giggle, that she was certain the butterflies were a sign from above.

“I just knew,” said Clark, 29, who works as a school nurse and a substitute intensive care nurse in Camden.

Now, four years after losing Noah, who lived just two hours after being delivered during an emergency Caesarian section at only 24 weeks’ gestation when many babies aren’t able to survive outside the womb, 5-year-old Owen has a 10-month-old sister, Lilly.

The Clarks are grateful for Adam Sandlin, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) who specializes in high-risk pregnancies and who oversaw this third pregnancy. Sandlin said that because of the high blood pressure from preeclampsia that Clark experienced when pregnant with Noah, forcing the premature birth, doctors knew this would be an even higher-risk pregnancy.

“Due to complications during Haley’s pregnancy with Noah and the type of C-section she required, we knew what to prepare for,” Sandlin said.

This time, Clark was carefully monitored and restricted to limited activity at home beginning at 20 weeks. A C-section delivery was scheduled at UAMS for Sept. 23, 2022.

But on Sept. 22, at nearly 37 weeks’ gestation, Clark’s water broke while she was at home in Camden. Due to her type of prior C-section, Sandlin had told her that if she went into labor prior to the planned delivery date, she should go to the nearest Labor and Delivery unit and not risk traveling from her home to UAMS, so Lilly was delivered by C-section that day at the Camden hospital where Clark works.

Clark still had her unworn wedding dress. Purchased a month before learning she was pregnant with Noah, the couple decided to forgo the stress of a large wedding and opted for a simple service instead. Meanwhile, an aunt who lives in Hot Springs Village told Clark about another woman in the village who creates tiny burial gowns for preemies out of wedding dresses.

Soon, Clark donated her unworn gown to Colleen Angel, who goes by the name Grandma Angel. The dress yielded 16 tiny gowns, all of which included blue butterflies embroidered on them, as well as blue bow ties for the boys.

They were among about 100 of the tiny gowns that Clark recently donated to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and the Labor and Delivery Unit at UAMS. She also donated boxes of the tiny gowns for both girl babies and boy babies to the hospital in Little Rock where she had Owen and the hospital in Camden where she had Lilly.

Becky Sartini, DNP, RN, assistant director of nursing in the UAMS NICU, said the one-of-a-kind gowns — elegantly crafted, some with beads or sequins — are offered to grieving parents for final photographs, memorial services and to take home as keepsakes.

“Every one of our patients who loses a child receives something,” Sartini said. “If we have gowns available, we will use them.”

Sartini, left, joins the Clarks, Sandlin and Keathley while Haley Clark holds one of the donated gowns.

Sartini, left, joins the Clarks, Sandlin and Keathley while Haley Clark holds one of the donated gowns.

“This is such a nice, generous gift,” Sandlin said. “It’s so appreciated, and it’s going to touch a lot of families.”

“One cannot imagine the heartbreak of having to say hello and goodbye to a child all at the same time,” says Angel’s website, “Yet too many parents face this scenario and in that moment cannot even begin to find a gown for this precious child who might be only the size of your hand!”

Angel began Tiny Angel Gowns in Pennsylvania in 2009, when she was a college professor, before she and her husband retired to Hot Springs Village. The website says the mission of making preemie burial gowns began after a cousin of hers lost a premature baby, and a local hospital began looking for someone who could sew.

“Today over 280 hospitals from the Northeast to the Midwest and down to the South receive donations of the gowns, hats and diapers in five different sizes,” as well as tiny fleece buntings for babies who are too tiny to dress, the website says.