Gracie’s Bears Bring Comfort During a Time of Tragedy

One nurse’s thoughtful efforts bring relief to grieving parents


For Talia and Dan Sandys, the weeks leading up to the birth of their daughter were a blur of worry, heartache and tears.

When Talia was 34 weeks pregnant, they learned their baby girl had Trisomy 18, a fatal chromosomal abnormality that affected the baby’s brain, heart, kidneys and overall development. Most babies with Trisomy are miscarried or stillborn. If babies with Trisomy make it to term, they do not survive for long.

“The doctors told us she was incompatible with life,” says Talia. “It was devastating. People would see me around town and not know. They’d ask what I was having and when I was due. It was so hard to smile and say a baby girl in June.”

Celebrating a short life

Talia and Dan decided to have their baby at Fairview Range Medical Center in Hibbing because it was close to home and they could be surrounded by family. They also set a goal to make their daughter’s short life as full as possible.

Gracie Rose Sandys was born on June 24, 2016. She weighed just 4 pounds 11 ounces and was 16 inches long. From the moment she was born, the couple soaked up every moment with her.

“We didn’t sleep,” says Talia. “We didn’t know how long we would have with her. We didn’t want to miss a thing. We held her the whole time. We were so lucky to have five days with her.”

They celebrated each day of Gracie’s five days of life as a birthday. They took lots of photos, gave her a bath, fed her, read her books, sang to her, and dressed her in different outfits. They made handprints and footprints of her tiny hands and feet.

“We celebrated every day,” says Talia. “Every moment.”

Grieving for Gracie

The Sandys family was assigned two nurses for their entire stay, with the goal of providing them and Gracie with as much comfort and care as possible.

One of their nurseswas Ferechil Specht, who had been present at the birth of the Sandys’ first child, Evan, about two years earlier. Ferechil often works with grieving parents who are dealing with newborn losses.

When Ferechil first learned about Gracie, her mind went back to a program she had seen at a previous position that gave weighted teddy bears to grieving parents who experienced the loss of a child. She approached her supervisor about doing something similar at Fairview Range, and the wheels were set in motion.

Ferechil knew Talia’s baby was coming soon and couldn’t wait for the program to officially launch. She bought a stuffed teddy bear and spent the quiet times on her midnight shift getting it ready—even attaching a little pink bow to the bear’s head.

“Nothing can replace the loss of a child,” says Ferechil. “It was so sad, and even though I knew I couldn’t do anything to replace her baby, I wanted her to be able to have something to hold in her arms. I didn’t want her to leave the hospital empty-handed. I hoped it would be therapeutic.”

She gave Talia the bear at the end of one of her shifts. Talia recalls holding the bear during those long nights at the hospital.

“There were nights I slept with it,” says Talia. “It weighs the same as Gracie. It is such a sweet and thoughtful memento to have.”

“So other parents don’t feel alone”

Ferechil made a few more bears, some with pink bows, some with blue, to have on hand in the Women’s Health & Birth Center. Soon, the Fairview Range Volunteer Service Organization took over the project of making more of the weighted teddy bears for mothers who had lost a baby.

Ferechil approached Talia about naming the project “Gracie’s Bears” in honor of Gracie. The Sandys family quickly agreed.

“We can’t speak on behalf of all grieving parents, but we want to do anything we can to keep her memory going,” says Talia. “We want people to talk about Gracie. There should be more conversations about infant loss so other parents going through this don’t feel alone.”

Talia said she’s grateful to Ferechil for taking the lead on Gracie’s Bears.

“She’s touched more lives than we know.”

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