SALT LAKE CITY — Marki Hinkle and her husband walked into the hospital on May 23, 2016, following what had been a smooth, even wonderful 40 weeks of pregnancy.
"There was nothing concerning at all. We were kind of the poster children for a happy, healthy pregnancy," Hinkle remembers.
"Until we weren't."
A seemingly routine check for the heartbeat of Hinkle's baby girl that day quickly turned into a nightmare.
"When they took us back, there was just no heartbeat," Hinkle emotionally recalled.
After a second test, this time with an ultrasound, mother and father received the crippling news that their daughter, Harvi, would be stillborn.
Many hours later, Hinkle delivered her daughter, who weighed 7 pounds, 4 ounces, measured 20 inches long and was "otherwise a perfectly healthy little girl (who) didn't have a heartbeat."
"She was a real baby — she was my baby," Hinkle said.
After the delivery, the Salt Lake couple faced a race against time. Because infants' bodies are so small, they deteriorate quickly postmortem.
"We saw her tiny body falling apart in front of us. That's something no parent should ever, ever have to see," she said.
While they could, Patrick and Marki Hinkle held their daughter close, took photos and spent time together as a family of three. Time finally ran out on the family after seven hours total with baby Harvi, when the worsening of her body's condition compelled them to say goodbye.
"Seven hours — that's not even the equivalent of a regular workday for most people."
Anguished by their lack of time with their daughter, the Hinkles soon channeled their pain into an effort to ensure that other parents mourning their stillborn child in the future have more time with them.
On Friday, a major step forward in that ambition was reached as the couple presented several University Hospital administrators with a gift called a Cuddle Cot — a portable cooling device that parents can use to better preserve the bodies of their stillborn infants during the grieving process. The device uses hose-controlled cooled pads that can be set inside a bassinet or a similar baby accessory.
"They give the babies the gift of time," Marki Hinkle told the group.
The Hinkles' gift, which University of Utah Health spokeswoman Suzanne Winchester said costs about $3,000, will be the first such device at the hospital. The couple also recently donated another Cuddle Cot to St. Mark's Hospital — and they may not be done yet.
"I just remember wishing I had that opportunity (for more time). We think every hospital that has women's and newborn services should have this," Hinkle said.
The family runs a blog, littlemissdharvi.wordpress.com, where they share their story and raise funds to help purchase each Cuddle Cot by both encouraging people to donate and selling butterfly bracelets and pins specially designed to honor Harvi.
Hinkle said she and her husband liked the idea of donating to University Hospital since it cares for a lot of maternity patients who give high risk births.
About 1 in 160 babies in the United States is delivered stillborn, adding to about 26,000 such events each year nationwide, and it is common for the cause of death to remain unknown — as is the case for Harvi. Lauren Evans, perinatal bereavement coordinator for University of Utah Health, said the donated Cuddle Cot will play a critical role for future grieving families at the hospital during their most trying hours.
"This will make such a wonderful experience for families after such a tragedy occurs in their life," Evans said.
Rita Aguilar, labor and delivery nursing director for University of Utah Health, praised the Hinkles for drawing on their own pain to reach out to other families who will need help.
"I want to thank this couple for their courage — their courage to share such a personal story. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for sharing your story and your generosity," she said.
Anything that can extend the preciously small window of time families have with their stillborn little one, Aguilar said, is more than worthwhile.
"They need to be the ones who define how much time they spend with their infant," she said.
Hinkle, who is pregnant again and due later this month — "that's a whole other roller coaster of emotions," she said — is glad she and her husband can reach outward and meaningfully impact others who will be walking a devastating path so similar to their own.
"We are really grateful to be able to offer this to the hospital and help any other family who may go through this."