Since 2012, the Precious Prints Project at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Nursing has been offering free fingerprint charms to families that have lost a child. The project is a collaboration with a local jewelry company, Precious Metal Prints.
Amy Neil, a nurse who earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UT, vividly remembers talking with a woman about the recent loss of a child and noticing the small silver fingerprint charm dangling around the woman’s neck.
“She had a pretty amazing story,” said Neil. “Her child passed away in a hospital out of state. She heard about the Precious Prints Project and obtained a charm with her late child’s fingerprint.”
Neil, who works as an oncology nurse practitioner at University Cancer Specialists, unfortunately, knows the pain of losing a child all too well.
Neil and her husband, DJ, had struggled with infertility for years.
“After seven years of trying the doctors still could not explain our fertility issues,” said Neil.
In a final effort, the couple went through a round of in vitro fertilization and found out they were expecting in November 2019.
“I had a good pregnancy,” said Neil. “I never felt ill, no nausea, nothing. My pregnancy was perfect. All my labs, ultrasounds and fetal heart rate were testing good. We had a healthy baby!”
At 27 weeks, Neil experienced complications and was rushed to Park West Medical Center. She was diagnosed with preterm premature rupture of membranes and transferred to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, where she was admitted and monitored for several weeks.
Two weeks later, Neil went into labor. Luke Hudson Neil was born on May 9, 2020, weighing less than three pounds. He was immediately rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.
“Luke was in distress,” said Neil. “He suffered from deceleration of heart rate along with other health conditions. None of this was ever expected.”
Luke passed away that same day while surrounded by his loving family.
A nurse offered Neil a Precious Print. She now has a small tangible memory of her son, a silver pendant necklace with his fingerprint, provided by the Precious Prints Project.
Jennifer Hong, Neil’s sister, and another UT alumna knew she needed to help after Luke’s passing.
“As I was holding Luke, I glanced down at him and made a promise,” said Hong. “I promised that everyone would know who he was.”
Hong approached her sister and brother-in-law with the idea of creating a foundation in Luke’s honor. They were humbled and honored by the gesture.
“One of the first decisions we needed to make was what will the foundation help support,” said Neil. “My response was instant—UT’s Precious Prints Project.”
In February, the Luke Hudson Neil Foundation was officially created. Hong now serves as its president.
“The foundation is here to celebrate Luke’s life and all the babies who have left this world way too soon,” said Hong.
The foundation will serve as a base to support and grow the Precious Prints Project, with all the proceeds it raises going directly to the project.
“We want to help the program spread where it can,” said Hong.
To date, the Precious Prints Project has provided nearly 1,300 prints to families who have lost a child. Neil and her family want to honor Luke’s memory by seeing that number increase.
“My intent in telling Luke’s story is to honor him, acknowledge his life and death,” said Neil. “Luke deserves for his name to be spoken and he deserves to make his little mark on this big world.”
The Precious Prints Project will host the annual Sprint for the Prints virtually September 18 to 25. Proceeds from the 5K will help provide a necklace pendant to families like the Neils who have lost a child. Learn more about the race or register here.
Kara Clark (865-974-9498, firstname.lastname@example.org)