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Project Angel Gowns of the South

Nurse turns wedding gowns into baby gowns for parents who lose a child

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By JESSICA HARTHORN, WTVC

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WTVC) - Losing a child is heart wrenching for any parent, especially when the tragedy happens soon after delivery.

A labor and delivery nurse at Erlanger Hospital wanted to help ease that pain by offering families a free gown for their baby's burial.

In this week's Pay It Forward, Jessica Harthorn surprises the woman who started Project Angel Gowns of the South.

In 2013, Jenny Travis recognized a need in our community - to help parents who have suffered the loss of a child through pregnancy or premature infant loss.

Travis wanted to give them a beautiful gown, either as a keepsake or for burial. So she started collecting old wedding dresses, and rallied some tenderhearted seamstresses.

Today, her non-profit has expanded to eight hospitals across the region. They're created from lace, sequins, bows and ribbon.

These gorgeous, custom sized suits and gowns are made from the material of donated wedding dresses.

The goal of Project Angel Gowns of the South is to tell grieving parents that someone understands their loss of an infant is tremendous.

"It gives them something to hold on to, something special," said Donna Kilgore, who works at Erlanger.

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Kilgore says Travis, her co-worker, got the inspiration for the project five years ago.

Since then, Jenny has collected 300 used wedding dresses, and helped turn them into more than 1,000 gowns.

"Anybody that needs help, Jenny is there. She's got the biggest heart," said Kilgore.

And today, Kilgore wanted Travis to know just how much of an impact she's made on people's lives.

"Hi Jenny!" said Kilgore as she opened the door.

"Hey, what are you guys doing?" asked Travis.

"Thanks to Newschannel 9 and the McMahan Law Firm, I'm here to Pay It Forward. Put your hand out. 1, 2, 3, 4, $500," said Kilgore.

"I don't know what to say right now!" Travis responded, hugging Kilgore.

After their emotional hug, Travis invited us inside and showed us some precious gowns that were recently dropped off.

"I started with one or two dresses, my mom was my first seamstress and saw the need, and what it would mean for patients," she said.

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Travis says 35 additional seamstresses now volunteer their time, designing the "stitched with love" Angel Gowns.

We've even featured their work in a past "Made in Our Hometown" segment.

Almost four years later, and Travis's closet is still full of donated dresses she's collected.

"We keep each donor's name and information, so they can see the exact gowns that come from their wedding dress," she said.

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