NICEVILLE, Fla. (WKRG) — Aug. 3, 2018, was the day Kristyn Szala gave birth to her second son Asher at Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola. He was stillborn.

“Asher was given a life-living diagnosis of Trisomy 18 when I was about 18 weeks pregnant,” said Szala. “So at that time I didn’t really know how to prepare for what lay ahead for me. I had to start thinking about medical decisions and preparing for a funeral, and those kinds of decisions were not even a thought in my head at that time.”

Trisomy 18 is a rare chromosomal condition that causes low birth weight, abnormalities, and a slim chance of survival.

Before Asher’s birth, the family raised money to buy a CuddleCot, an insulated cooling pad inserted in a bassinet or baby carrier. CuddleCots provide a way to keep the newborn in the room with the mother and family as they recover.

For Szala, she said the time with Asher meant everything.

“We used his cuddle cot in the hospital and it gave us 2 1/2 days with Asher together as a family whereas we really only would have had a matter of hours,” said Szala. “It allowed my mom to be able to fly in to meet her grandson.”

Szala donated Asher’s CuddleCot to the hospital after her treatment, making it available for other grieving mothers and families.

“Hello. I saw the article this moming on the Niceville page and I just wanted to say thank you. Our son Luke was stillborn December 26, 2019 and we were able to use the cuddle cot at Sacred Heart in Pensacola. Your donation helped us spend 28 hours with our firstborn. At such a devastianng time you can think about the future and having that time with Luke allowed us to get more pictures and spend time holding him. We treasure that time.

Like your son, Luke was diagnosed early on with an unsurvivable kidney condition. It was hard being pregnant and know you werent going to be able to take your child home with you after birth. We are still hoping and praying for our raindow baby.

It was really nice to learn the history of the cuddle cot. We would like to make a donation. Is go fund me the best way or is there an address we can mail it to? Thank you again.”

Text from a mother who used Asher’s CuddleCot

The mission, however, was just starting for Szala. She created Asher’s Hope in May of 2021, a non-profit raising money to donate CuddleCots to hospitals in the area.

A CuddleCot costs nearly $3,000. So far Szala has donated 6 in Ashers’ name to local and military hospitals.

  • Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola
  • Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast
  • Fort Walton Beach Medical Center
  • Eglin Air Force Base
  • North Okaloosa Medical Center
  • Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

All of the CuddleCots are paid for by donations and fundraisers. This holiday season will make another fundraiser for Asher’s Hope, the Christmas CuddleCot concert in Niceville.

CuddleCots Concert

  • Saturday, Dec. 10
  • 2:00 PM at Crosspoint Blue Water Bay
  • free, family-friendly event
  • donations accepted

Szala hopes the fundraiser will bring in enough money to purchase another CuddleCot for Northwest Florida. She has multiple hospitals in mind that need one.

“I just continue to be humbled and amazed by just how much beauty he has brought into the world. How much caring he has brought into the world,” said an emotional Szala about Asher. “I mean to see people donate and to put these CuddleCots in hospitals all in his name, to me it’s him that is making a difference in this world.”