NORTH CANTON, Ohio - A North Canton couple is on a mission to help grieving parents of stillborn infants or newborn death get something they didn't: enough time to say goodbye.
On Oct. 27, 2015, Erin and Tony Maroon found out their first baby, Ashlie Cathren Maroon, died in utero at 41 weeks and a day, after a healthy pregnancy. The baby's umbilical cord had wrapped around her neck three times and her ankle once - an occurrence the parents were later told is usually not fatal.
After Erin endured labor for 24 hours, she ultimately had a Caesarean section at Cleveland Clinic Akron General to deliver her stillborn baby.
There was no baby's first cry.
"There was no sound - it was just empty in the room," Erin recalled.
In the fog of anesthesia and shock, Erin said she had about 20 minutes after delivery to hold Ashlie while a photographer they called took photos.
The next day when Erin asked to see the baby from the morgue, Ashlie's little body and the blankets still wrapping her were frozen. Erin said her features had "turned angry. She was not the same baby I had seen less than 24 hours before."
In total, Erin estimates the family only had about an hour with Ashlie over a two-day period.
"My biggest regret is I didn't see her feet," she said.
When Erin was waiting to be discharged, she searched the internet for a way to cope with coming home to an empty nursery.
That's when she found out about the Cuddle Cot - a cool gel pad that uses distilled water and is laid under a blanket. It can keep a baby's body temperature between 32 degrees and 42 degrees for up to 96 hours in order to give grieving parents the time they need to say goodbye.
"If we had this and our child had been able to stay with us, it would have been a world of difference," said Tony, who is in law enforcement.
For months after Ashlie's death, the couple had a hard time coping. Neither could open the door to the nursery. Tony built a pond in his daughter's memory in the front yard and dedicated his '69 Firebird to his daughter, making a sign to display at car shows.
In December, Erin, a sales director for Mary Kay Cosmetics, woke up one morning and said, "We have to put these Cuddle Cots in hospitals."
The couple wants a unit in every U.S. hospital. There are now about 400 nationwide.
"I know it's lofty and I know it's grand," Erin said. "I feel like it needs to be done. I personally have the drive to make sure it gets done or to really work and say I gave it my best effort. Part of it is selfish. I want Ashlie's name to be known. I want her legacy to live on."
The couple has formed a charity called Ashlie's Embrace, www.ashliesembrace.org. They held a fundraiser gala in October and raised $15,000. They have an upcoming golf outing and continue to raise funds.
So far, they have placed six Cuddle Cots in hospitals, including one donated last week to Akron Children's Hospital.
Locally, Akron General received the first unit and other units are at Summa Barberton Hospital, Mercy Medical Center, Aultman Hospital and one is slated for Summa Akron City Hospital.
They also have placed a unit in Nashville and have requests from hospitals in Houston, Denver, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
In addition, there are units pending in Youngstown, Wooster, Portage County and in Cleveland.
Erin said Ashlie's Embrace will raise funds with families to place a Cuddle Cot in their baby's honor. So far, five Cuddle Cots have been paid for with private family fundraisers.
"We placed those first because we wanted the families to get closure," she said. Funds from the gala will be used for the remaining cots this year, she said.
Each donated Cuddle Cot unit, which the Maroons also deliver with a bassinet, has a plaque, which reads: "May this be a blessing to you in your time of grief. Please know you are not alone."
The Maroons have been told that the units they've donated to hospitals have been used, but because of privacy issues, they have not been able to talk to a family that has used the Cuddle Cot. They'd like to be able to hear from a family that it helped.
The Cuddle Cots will provide comfort and compassion to grieving parents, said Dr. Mona Raed, a palliative care physician at Akron Children's.
"One of the most important things for a family who has lost a child is time. It's so important for bereavement to be able to hold the baby and provide a bond," Raed said.
After death, a baby's body and features can change in a matter of minutes to hours, depending on the circumstances, she said.
Some parents want time with the baby to do normal things like changing a diaper or bathing the baby, Raed said. The Cuddle Cot gives them that time.
"It might seem like such a little thing, but when you're going through this, we can make a really awful situation a little less awful," Raed said.
Erin Maroon said offering the units, which cost about $3,000, to hospitals is bittersweet.
"We wish they weren't ever going to be used," she said.
The Cuddle Cots now are only made by a company in the United Kingdom. Tony Maroon said they've spoken to the University of Akron's engineering department to work on making similar units in the U.S.
"I remember telling Tony that Ashlie is going to change the world. I know every parent says that. I just had this feeling," Erin said. "We need to do it for her. We could lay down and die with her or we could do something about it. That's why we went through this."
The Maroons have a new chapter to add to their story.
On Wednesday, Erin delivered a healthy baby boy, Anthony "AJ" Jerrick Maroon, born at City Hospital at 7 pounds, 11 ounces and 21.5 ounces.
While in the hospital, the Maroons already coordinated with staff to return to City Hospital to deliver the next Cuddle Cot and to talk with doctors about helping grieving parents.
AJ was born at 39 weeks gestation. Erin and Tony admitted that they were on pins and needles until he was born.
Tony said he had a flashback to Ashlie's quiet birth when AJ was born.
"After I heard him cry, I was done," Tony said, of his emotions. "He came out wailing."
AJ has a full head of dark hair - and long toes on his little feet.
"Now we start the delicate balance of loving this baby and not forgetting her," said Erin. "He won't replace her."