Her second month on campus, Eva Huff, a nursing student from Knoxville, signed up to participate in the Sprint for the Prints, a 5K walk and run organized in support of the Precious Prints Project.
Every year, the student-led event raises money to provide families grieving the loss of a child in the hospital with a silver pendant bearing their child’s fingerprint—a lasting impression of the time they had together. Since it was started in 2011 by UT’s Student Nurses Association—the largest student nurse group of any university in Tennessee—Precious Prints has provided the keepsakes to more than 1,200 families.
“When I came home from the race, I was talking 100 words a minute, telling my mom all about it,” Huff says. “She lost twins 18 years ago, before Precious Prints. This would’ve meant the world to her.”
Huff’s mother has participated in Sprint for the Prints in the years since. Huff, who after graduating this spring will start a job as a labor and delivery nurse at UT Medical Center, is now the philanthropy chair for the Precious Prints project.
“This is why many of us wanted to become nurses in the first place,” says Faith Mysliwiec, a senior nursing student from Knoxville, who has been involved with the project since her first year at UT.
Precious Prints is advised by Clinical Nursing Instructor Lynne Miller, who had the idea for the project after receiving a charm from her grandson and remembering back to a moment when she rode a hospital elevator with a mother who was leaving the hospital alone after losing her child. The prints are provided in partnership with Precious Metal Prints, a local company.
The project is run entirely by a team of eight junior and senior nursing students who serve in leadership roles. It is supported by nearly 100 other nursing students yearly. In 2020, Mysliwiec was the Precious Prints race chair, organizing the first virtual Sprint for the Prints, which broke records. In total, 450 people from 18 states and two countries participated, raising $18,500.
As early as their first semester on campus, nursing students who sign up to volunteer with Precious Prints through the SNA visit hospitals and train teams of nurses on how to make the prints to distribute to families who have suffered a loss. They’ve become a regular feature of nursing orientation at many local hospitals.
“We read them quotes from family members who have reached out to us to tell us the emotional value these prints have and how grateful they are for what we’re doing,” says Mysliwiec, who, like Huff, has accepted a job in labor and delivery at UT Medical Center. “It’s not just impactful for these families but for the students and for nurses, too. It brings you to tears.”
Since launching at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Precious Prints has added hospital partners throughout the region, including in Knoxville, Maryville, Oak Ridge, and Crossville, Tennessee. It also has two university partners—Union University in Hendersonville and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas—whose students were directly trained by UT students on how to expand the project to hospitals where they live. Miller and the college regularly receive requests for new partnerships, sparked in part by the testimonies of nurses who have participated in social media groups around the country about how to support patients dealing with bereavement.
“Over Christmas break two years ago, Lynne emailed and asked me if I could go visit a dialysis unit at one of our local hospitals,” Huff says.
Typically, nurses involved with the project are in neonatal ICUs and labor and delivery units. The dialysis staff wanted to become involved after one of its nurses had lost a child and received a print.
“The whole unit was so impacted they made T-shirts, did a fundraiser, and gave all the money to Precious Prints,” Huff says. They wanted to make Huff and her fellow students knew how much it meant to them.
In her role as philanthropy chair this past year, Huff has led the College of Nursing’s collaboration with the Haslam College of Business, which this year launched a first-year seminar course on how business leaders can give back through philanthropy. Academic Advisor Marg Basehart, who teaches the course, is a print recipient herself. She’s spoken to the students about how impactful the project was for her personally. It has made Huff think about her own family’s story.
“You’re providing a mother something she wears close to her heart,” Huff says. “This is the best thing that’s happened to me as an undergrad.”