Madison resident Kelley Whitworth’s dreams came true when she found out that she was pregnant with their second son Wells in 2017. She and her husband Chad were already parents to a precious toddler named Miller and were overjoyed to welcome another baby after experiencing two sudden miscarriages in between her pregnancies with Miller and Wells.
Miller, their first son, was breech throughout the pregnancy, which resulted in delivery via cesarian section. Whitworth wasn’t surprised to learn during her pregnancy with Wells that he too was also breech and would likely deliver via c-section too if he didn’t turn around.
Whitworth says that her pregnancy was otherwise a wonderful experience; They’d done genetic testing at the suggestion of her doctor, Dr. Karen Raiford, which she says “came back great and even allowed us to find out his gender early!”
Whitworth was scheduled to come in for her c-section at Huntsville Hospital at noon on Monday, June 11th, 2018 at the 39-week mark in her pregnancy. She went in for an ultrasound the Friday prior to determine one final time if Wells was interested in flipping from his breached position, but he was sitting tight. Whitworth’s fluid levels looked great, so she went home to enjoy the weekend with Chad and Miller before a much-anticipated delivery day on Monday.
On Monday though, she woke up feeling out of sorts; She was experiencing contractions and couldn’t recall feeling Wells move in a while.
“We were packing our bags to head to the hospital anyway, so I tried to stay calm,” she shares as tears begin to form in her eyes as she recounts the memories of that day.
She says that the labor and delivery team immediately began prepping her for surgery while also searching for a heartbeat.
“They told me that they couldn’t find it but that it was possibly because he was breech.”
Another nurse searched for the heartbeat but was unsuccessful.
Whitworth whispered to her husband that she was becoming really scared as the team left to get another ultrasound machine. When they came back to the room with the machine, they were followed by Dr. Raiford as well as another doctor.
“And we knew at that moment he was gone,” Whitworth says through tears. “But then we actually had to do the surgery.”
Whitworth says that she remembers Dr. Raiford crying during the surgery; They all were.
“She even reached over at one point and grabbed my hand,” she recalls as she thinks fondly about Dr. Raiford, whom she says is a really special person and doctor.
Kelley and Chad are thankful that they were able to spend a lot of time with their baby boy, who they say looked just like his big brother. They decided to have him baptized and invited their family members to come to see him too.
The Whitworths were never able to put their finger on why Wells’s heart stopped beating.
Whitworth says that the days and weeks following Wells’s passing were a blur. They were immediately thrown into making decisions with the funeral home, which was brutal.
“I couldn’t even muster the energy to pick out a funeral dress. My sister-in-law came over with several options and just told me to pick one. I was so thankful.”
A few weeks after the adrenaline wore off and Kelley and Chad were at home sitting quietly on the couch together, it occurred to Kelley that she had no idea how much everything had cost for the funeral and burial.
“I found out that our families covered everything; I had no idea how much anything had cost because they all got together and quietly just took care of it for us.”
She says that she couldn’t have imagined the financial burden on top of their unfathomable grief but knew that so many families didn’t have the kind of support that they had. At that moment, the idea struck her to begin some sort of fundraising effort to help families that would go through this kind of loss in the future.
They’d already raised $5,000 for the Huntsville Hospital NICU after Wells’s passing because they’d requested donations to be directed there in lieu of flowers.
“We raised that really quickly, so we knew we could continue.”
Kelley and Chad quickly met with the former Huntsville Hospital Foundation president Candy Burnett and inquired about moving the money raised to the Foundation. This meeting put the ball in motion quickly, and within weeks the Wells Clayton Whitworth Fund within the Huntsville Hospital Foundation was born.
The Wells Clayton Whitworth Memorial Foundation
Whitworth shares that the purpose of this foundation is to help ease the financial burden of a funeral, burial, cremation, urn, and/or casket after a family loses a child.
“We want to help regardless off if they have the funds or not,” she says. “Even if they technically have the money to cover those fees, our foundation still wants to help so that they can save their money for counseling or other needs that may come up for the grieving family.”
Whitworth says that the process is quite simple; If a family experiences the loss of a child, they’ll be given a card by the hospital and told to bring it to the funeral home of their choice. From there, the funeral home will call the foundation and work together to have their expenses covered.
The Whitworths lost Wells in June of 2018 and were able to provide comfort to a family via financial assistance for their child’s funeral expenses just three months later.
“I owe a lot of that to Chad,” shares Kelley. “He really took on that huge role in the beginning with getting things rolling quickly.”
“We want to help as many families as possible,” she says, which is why the foundation has now expanded to Decatur Morgan Hospital and Athens Limestone Hospital in addition to Huntsville Hospital and Madison Hospital.
Kelley and Chad have also started their own 501(c)3 non-profit in order to help families outside of the aforementioned hospital systems. To date, the Whitworths have helped over 100 families with their expenses in just 3.5 years.
Though the Whitworths were able to raise over $10,000 in the first month of announcing the foundation due to generous donations from family and friends, they knew that they needed to do more in order to support as many families as they could in the years to come. They quickly decided to do an annual pheasant shoot fundraiser.
This fundraiser takes place each February and to date has raised nearly $250,000.
“We’ve been extremely humbled by the generosity and support of our sponsors and participants,” says Whitworth, who shares that they are currently putting their heads together to develop an additional fundraiser to raise even more money to support families after child loss in any way they can, including grief counseling.
The success of the annual pheasant shoot and the ability to help other families through the unfathomable haven’t been the only bright spots in the Whitworth’s lives since they lost Wells; Their third baby boy named Tuck was born in December 2019 and is now a healthy, happy toddler.
“I delivered him in Wells’s room”, which is Huntsville Hospital room #10, which is now officially named after Wells.
When asked what pouring herself into the foundation has done for her grieving heart, Whitworth says that she just doesn’t want people to forget her son.
“As a mom, you want people to love your kids as you do, and for us, we’ll never stop loving Wells. This foundation is now a way for people to show that they love him too and won’t forget him.”
“It keeps his memory alive,” she says with a teary smile.
For those who are interested in learning more about the Wells Clayton Whitworth Memorial Foundation, please click here to browse their website. Kelley Whitworth wants people to know that they are available to help families all over the region and are just a simple phone call away.
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