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Susquehanna Life

The Smallest Gift Helps Others Experiencing Their Greatest Loss

May 19, 2015 03:09PM ● By Erica Shames

For Jeannette Gill of Northumberland and Mandy Maneval of Richfield, a life-changing event brought them together and forged a bond that now serves to help others.

Gill and Maneval, the founders of the organization The Smallest Gift, were united in 2012 when both lost infant daughters days after their birth. Though the losses happened at different hospitals, the two connected through programs that provided emotional support for parents of infant loss.

The Smallest Gift, a 501c3 non-profit organization, grew from that idea of having individuals who have similar experiences helping each other through the roughest of times. Today, The Smallest Gift has grown and provides more and more resources for parents who are looking for comfort. Their outreach has touched families all over the country.

Each month they take up to 35 requests for blankets that are embroidered with the baby’s name and a sentimental saying as well as heart-shaped pillows that weigh exactly the same as the baby at birth or in the case of babies that they know run a high-risk of being terminal, bears that have a recording of the baby’s heartbeat. The pillows, blankets, and bears are meant to comfort parents and siblings by giving them something to hold when their arms are empty or when they miss the touch of their lost baby.

The group also works with local hospitals, church groups, and other organizations to speak to the topic of loss. “We help people know how to talk to those who have experienced a loss,” said Maneval. “It’s amazing how caring individuals avoid you after you’ve lost a child just because they don’t know what to say or are afraid to say the wrong things.”

The group, which operates solely off of donations and fundraising and does the work on the side in addition to their regular full-time jobs, is always looking for new ways to reach out to others. Most recently holding a Family Loss Advisor training, that taught others how to talk about loss in their communities and creates a network of individuals who can aid those who are living through loss. The event attracted 18 attendees including labor and delivery nurses from four different hospitals.

Most significantly though, one of their goals came to fruition in December of 2014. Gill had been looking into the idea of having CuddleCots™ available at local hospitals for some time. These special cots include a cooling pad and insulated hose that quietly cools the baby’s body and allows parents to spend more time with their baby as they say goodbye.

The cooling systems are available exclusively from the United Kingdom and up until last year were relatively new to the United States.

In February of 2014, a longtime supporter and friend of Maneval, experienced her own, unexpected loss. Heather and Eric Pyle were 20 weeks into their pregnancy when she went to the Emergency Department with what she thought was appendicitis. She was transferred to the obstetrics unit and taken into surgery for a uterus rupture. Her son, Xavier Banks Pyle was stillborn. Because of needing anesthesia Heather lost valuable time to bond with her son or to grasp the loss she had just experienced.

The situation brought the dream of having a CuddleCot™ available locally to the top of The Smallest Gift’s bucket list. A fundraiser was held and enough monies were raised to purchase the just over $3,000 system and in December the CuddleCot™ was presented to the staff at The Family Place at Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg in memory of Xavier.

“For us, it was all about time,” said Eric Pyle, Xavier’s father. “The time you get is so little and whatever could be done to add to that time of bonding and saying goodbye makes a difference.”

“Since the donation, the cot has been used two or three times and has brought great comfort to our infant loss families who, because of the gift, were able to spend more time with their baby,” said Susan Payne, RNC, BSN, Coordinator for the Perinatal Bereavement Services at The Family Place.

“Having the cot available to other families in Xavier’s memory is the greatest blessing. They are able to get the time we would have loved to have because of this gift, and that means Xavier’s life is making an impact on others.” Heather Pyle said, “We are touched to be able to give back and to have him honored in this way. We know that we are keeping his memory alive because when others see the plaque on the cot and read his name, they will be remembering our son.”

The Smallest Gift thought of Evangelical as the place to give their first CuddleCot™ because of the Hospital’s robust infant loss program that includes a Children’s Remembrance Service with butterfly release, a candlelight service, an Empty Arms support group, an annual Walk for Remembrance and Hope, and a garden with a memorial plaque for child loss. All of those are open to anyone who experienced the loss of a child.

The Smallest Gift continues their dreams in helping others. They’re looking forward to creating a formal children’s memorial garden in Northumberland and based on the success of their training program held in April, they hope to hold more events that educate and bring awareness to infant loss.

For more information about The Smallest Gift, visit, their Facebook page, or contact them by email at

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