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Mom Ashlee Hammac builds memorial sandbox on baby's grave for older brother

Tucker plays in a sandbox on his brother

Tucker plays in a sandbox on his brother Ryan's grave. Photo Credit: Facebook/Ashlee Hammac

A mother’s tribute to her newborn baby, who died five days after he was born, has gone viral and touched the lives of thousands on Facebook.

Ashlee Hammac, who lives in Lake City, Fla., wanted her 3-year-old son, Tucker, to have a happy memory of being a big brother, so she built a sandbox on her son Ryan’s grave so he could “play with his brother.”

“I want Tucker to have a happy memory with his brother and not the memory of his mama crying,” Hammac said.

When the 24-year-old single mom posted pictures on her Facebook page of Tucker playing with trucks in the sand by his brother’s grave, she never thought the photo would go viral.

The boys’ grandmother allowed Sawyer's Heart Project, a nonprofit organization that provides support and comfort to bereaved parents who have experienced the loss of an infant, to share Hammac’s photo on its Facebook page.

Since the photo was posted on its page on March 6, more than 175,000 people have liked the post and nearly 50,000 people have shared it. 

“I can’t believe how much of an impact one picture can make,” Hammac posted on her Facebook page a week later.

The nonprofit thanked the thousands of fans who supported the mother “and her healthy and incredibly loving, creative choice to create such a touching memorial.”

“This photo shows the tremendous impact the loss of a child has on — not only the parents — but siblings, grandparents, friends, neighbors, etc.,” the organization said on its Facebook post.

Ryan was born on Oct. 11, 2011 with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a dysfunction caused by a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain.

As soon as Ryan was born, the doctor immediately handed the baby to a nurse. Doctors told Hammac her placenta had ruptured during birth, and the baby had a 1-in-8 chance of survival.

Doctors worried that Ryan had brain damage, and an MRI confirmed their suspicions: Ryan had severe brain damage and would never recover.

Hammac spent as much time by her son’s side in the UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as she could.

“We knew that we would have to say goodbye, but our hearts broke to have to make that decision,” Hammac said. “It was the hardest decision a mother ever has to make.”

On Oct. 11, 2013, Ryan received a large dose of painkillers and was unhooked from his life support.

Since his death, Hammac created a Facebook page called Pages to Memories to support other babies with HIE.

“Ryan Michael Jolley only lived 5 short days, but made a forever impact on his family,” Hammac said. 

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