A Knoxville couple is sharing their personal struggle with infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth with a goal of bringing attention to a project that is literally close to their hearts.
“I find myself reaching down and touching it all the time. This is his real thumbprint. He put his thumb here,” Miranda Zolman, 34, said reaching for a sterling silver necklace around her neck.
The pendant is a small reminder of the big impact the Zolman’s son, Elliot, had on their lives in such a short amount of time. The Zolman family only got to spend a few hours with their son before it was time to say goodbye. Elliot was stillborn at 23 weeks.
“In those moments specifically, we were his parents. We're always going to be his parents but in that moment it was nice to get to hold him, look at him, and cherish him,” said Elliot’s father, David Zolman.
The family's struggle with having children started soon after they got married.
“We lost our first baby in 2015 at 13 weeks pregnant. We had no idea what happened at that point,” said Miranda.
After their first miscarriage, they conceived Elliot who showed no complications until a scan at 20 weeks revealed a debilitating illness.
Miranda is a neonatal nurse practitioner at University of Tennessee Medical Center. Her medical background meant she knew in detail what was happening to her son and that he had little hope of survival.
“I think it helped me to explain what was happening to him [David],” Miranda said.
“To think that it's happening again. It's like we're reliving a previous nightmare. But this time it's even worse. I don't know it was just heartbreak,” David said.
The Zolman family didn’t think there was anything that could bring them comfort until they received a keepsake in the mail three weeks after Elliot’s death.
In the grief, the couple had forgotten that a nurse came by and captured Elliot’s thumbprint in clay.
“He [David] was at work one day and I went to the mailbox and there it was. I just remember ripping open the package taking it out and putting it on right away. I never take it off,” Miranda said.
The small silver charm has Elliot’s thumbprint on one side and his initials on another. It was provided to them at no cost from the Precious Prints Project, a philanthropy of the UT College of Nursing.
Miranda has spent time in her career as a nurse doing Precious Prints herself.
“At the time, I never thought or realized this would be something I would receive myself,” Miranda said. “I have parents that have lost babies ask me, ‘Do you have children yourself?’ I sometimes use this necklace as a way to say this is a piece of our baby. You'll get one of these too.”
The Precious Prints Project now covers all Knox County Hospitals. UT College of Nursing students and staff run the project and got it off the ground in 2012.
Professor Lynne Miller was inspired by an encounter in an elevator years ago.
“I rode the elevator down with a young mom who was leaving the hospital without her child. The grief was just palpable. There was nothing I could do. Nothing I could do. As a nurse, as a mom, as another human being, I wanted to,” Miller said.
When her grandson gave her a print of his thumb, she realized that Precious Prints would fill a need for grieving families. A Knoxville artist offers the pendants to the nursing school at cost.
In the last four years, the nursing students have been able to provide 350 families with a lasting keepsake.
Miranda and David say they will cherish their precious print for a lifetime.
UT College of Nursing relies on donations to keep the Precious Prints Project possible. On Oct. 1 you can help by participating in the Sprint for the Prints 5K race. You can sign up at their website or make donations are always accepted online.