Virginia couple turns loss into a mission to help other families

Today, Heather and Demitri Wilson have the family they have always wanted, with their daughter Ryleigh and son Demitri Junior.

But, the Wilsons also have a mission, born out of the hardest loss of their lives.

"There is a new norm: 'Heather before Kennedy' and 'Heather after Kennedy passed away' are two different people," Heather Kennedy says,

Speaking to us from their home in Virginia Beach, the social worker and Suffolk Fire and Rescue battalion chief, described how, in 2009, at 36 weeks gestation, Heather felt their baby suddenly stop moving inside her.

They would later learn Kennedy died less than a month before her due date from complications of preeclampsia, a high blood pressure disorder in pregnancy.

"At any moment, I can just remember the loneliness and the confusion, and just every emotion you can think of," Wilson says.  
"What happened to me, specifically, was placenta abruption.  So, because my blood pressure got so high, my placenta detached."

They got the news at the hospital where they had planned to deliver Kennedy.

"They waited for the doctor on call to arrive, which wasn't my normal doctor, unfortunately, and to deliver to us the news that there was no heartbeat, and Kennedy had transitioned," Heather Wilson remembers.

Instead of bringing Kennedy home, they had just 48 hours to say goodbye and find a burial gown tiny enough to fit her.

Demitri Wilson and his mother-in-law spent hours shopping for an outfit, searching the baby section of department stores, even looking at doll clothes.

"I just think the worst thing a parent who has just lost a child could do is go to the clothing section of a clothing store to buy a gown for the baby who has just passed away.  I just can't imagine taking those steps, and unfortunately, my husband and my mom had to do that when we lost Kennedy.  And it's just stuck with me, they spent an entire day, and there was literally nothing small enough."

As the years passed, Heather Wilson began thinking about ways she might be able to help other families experiencing a pregnancy, stillbirth or neonatal loss like theirs.

"I said, 'What's more beautiful than the fabric of a wedding gown,'" she says.  "And, what does everyone do with their wedding gown? It sits in a closet."

So, they created Kennedy's Angel Gowns, a non-profit that sews burial gowns made from donated wedding dresses for babies lost during pregnancy or soon after.  

They now ship or deliver "angel boxes" free of charge all over the US.

"To think these beautiful babies will be buried in the most expensive and luxurious fabric is just amazing," Heather Wilson says.  "So, that's our piece that we give to these families, to say, free of charge, don't worry about it, we've got you covered. You can pick out which one speaks to you and your baby."

The organization has received so many donated wedding gowns, they have had to stop accepting them.

Their mission has grown over the years, from sewing burial outfits to donating cooling units to give grieving families more time with their babies.

Kennedy's Angel Gowns has donated cooling units to 12 baby hospitals.

They can regulate a stillborn baby's body temperature for up to 5 days.  

Demitri says the cots, which look like wooden cribs, give families time with their babies they did not have back in 2009.

"The cot can remain in the room with you, so you have as much time as you want, to hold, and cherish what memories you want to create moving forward," Demetri Wilson says.  "It's invaluable.  I wish we had that opportunity to get more than a couple of days we had to spend with Kennedy."

The Wilsons donated one of the cooling units to Atlanta's Northside Hospital, one of the busiest labor and delivery hospitals in the U.S..

"It became, that's it, that's what we had to do," Heather Wilson says.  "We didn't know how we would raise the money, because the units are about $5,000 each, but we knew every hospital had to be equipped with one."

To read more about the mission of Kennedy's Angel Gowns, visit