Stillborn child inspires couple’s nonprofit

Doug and Samantha Fleegle with Jenny Thompson, volunteer photographer for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, and the $3,000 donation to the NILMDTS organization at the May 18 Hyatt’s Angels fundraiser at the Civic Center in Statesville.
Doug and Samantha Fleegle with Jenny Thompson, volunteer photographer for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, and the $3,000 donation to the NILMDTS organization at the May 18 Hyatt’s Angels fundraiser at the Civic Center in Statesville. COURTESY OF DOUG FLEEGLE

Hyatt Walker Fleegle lived a very short life.

After eight months in his mother’s womb, Hyatt was stillborn May 15, 2012, at Iredell Memorial Hospital. Tests were run at the hospital, but Hyatt’s parents, Doug and Samantha Fleegle, ultimately received no explanation as to why their baby boy didn’t make it, despite his mother’s healthy pregnancy.

As a result, Hyatt’s Angels was born, designed by the Fleegles to help families cope with the loss of a child financially and emotionally.

The Fleegles understand from experience that the cost to bury a child can be overwhelming. Over the past year, the charity has raised about $20,000.

“For a while I was recovering, and Doug and I were sitting in the hospital; we wanted to keep Hyatt’s spirit alive, make a good situation out of a bad outcome, and started to think how could we help others,” Samantha said.

Doug, 46, and Samantha, 40, live in Graystone Meadows in Statesville with their children Romy Lynn, 2, Charlie Ellen, 3, and twins Emma and Jake, 11. Hyatt was to be their fifth and last child, and Samantha was due to have a C-section on June 14, 2012.

Samantha described the last few weeks of her pregnancy as very uncomfortable – so much so that when she went in on May 14 for a checkup, she was going to ask the doctor for an earlier C-section date. At that checkup, a heartbeat wasn’t found, but it took an ultrasound to reveal what was going on: Hyatt had died, probably a couple of days before.

Doug, traveling for work in Maryland at the time, got called out of a meeting to hear the news. His initial reactions were shock and disbelief, he said, but he found the internal strength to get through.

Samantha did the same. She went into “mom mode,” she said, taking care of her other children and helping the twins prepare for the end-of-grade testing they had the next day at school. Hyatt was delivered the next day.

“(We) went into the hospital and had the C-section and (said) our final goodbyes. You go through all emotions: ‘why me?’ the anger,” Samantha said. “It is something that we still work through. The pain will always be there and will never go away.”

Hyatt is buried near Doug’s hometown, Jennerstown, Pa. The headstone reads, “In an instant, you touched our hearts forever.” Hyatt is buried at the feet of Doug’s father, who died in 2006.

During Samantha’s four-day hospital stay, the Fleegles set up the Hyatt Walker Fleegle Memorial Trust Fund and asked that in lieu of flowers, contributions be given to that fund. The trust fund morphed into Hyatt’s Angels, now officially a nonprofit organization as part of the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“We have decided to bring our son’s sprit to the forefront in order to help others,” Doug said.

The first people the Fleegles helped with Hyatt’s Angels money were the family of 9-year-old La-reik Ramseur, who perished in an apartment fire on Brevard Street in Statesville Dec. 16, 2012. Samantha Fleegle said she did not know the boy personally, but knew people who did and who talked about what a great boy he was.

Samantha said she knew immediately that La-reik’s family was one that should be helped. Hyatt’s Angels donated $5,500 for La-reik’s funeral and burial expenses.

The first official Hyatt’s Angels fundraiser was May 18 in Statesville. It included a 5K race in the morning and a dinner/dancing event in the evening. La-reik’s family attended the event, which raised $5,000 from 5K entry fees and dinner ticket sales.

A $3,000 check was presented to the Colorado-based nonprofit Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org), which provides free photography services to families suffering the loss of an infant. A $1,000 check was presented to Covenant Child Care Center in Statesville, which would have been Hyatt’s day care. Another $1,000 was put back into the Hyatt’s Angels fund for future use.

Doug Fleegle is a health-care executive, and his job is forcing his family to relocate to Orlando, Fla. Considering the success of their first big Hyatt’s Angels event, and because of the move, the Fleegles are planning several future events in different parts of the country – an annual 5K in Statesville, a 5K in Doug’s hometown in Pennsylvania, a dinner in Samantha’s hometown near Chicago, and an event in Orlando once the Fleegles get settled there.

The Fleegles want to help others who have lost a child not only financially, but emotionally as well. The hospital has even been able to give their contact information to others in the area who have had stillborn children.

Doug believes Hyatt’s Angels will one day be able to pay for counseling for families who need it.

“We know how difficult the journey is, and it will never end,” Doug said.