ThePreemiePals

 Our Families' Stories

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From Temporary Housing to Lifelong Bonds

It’s often easy for the volunteers, workers and supporters of the RMH house to see first hand the temporary relief we provide families. But what isn’t always evident is the long term impact the RMH can have on some of our ‘residents’. The ‘Preemie Pals’ are a perfect example of this.

In the Fall of 2000, the Lehmkuhl’s of Gaylord checked into RMH with Corey, a 25 week preemie. They would be the long term residents of the group with an 88 day stay. In early November, the Beitz family of Eureka arrived with 29 week twin boys Kolby and Kendall. That same week brought the Wagner’s of Sublette with Emma, a 34 week girl also suffering a genetic disease, and also the Doherty’s of Salina with their 29 week son Tyler – the smallest of the group at only 2 lbs. 1 oz. Next came the Turner’s of Winfield with their 34 week son Lucas and lastly, Jacob, yet another 29 weeker with the Ewy’s from Hanston.

The preemies varied in size from Tyler who was only 2 lbs. 1 oz. all the way up to Lucas, who was the largest at 5 lbs 10 oz. Complications ranged from Emma’s rare genetic disease, all the way to Corey’s Chronic Lung Disease. The smaller ones, including Jacob and Kendall and Kolby, all battled Chronic Lung Disease together, brain bleeds, frequent sepsis and lots of bradycardias and apnea spells. Yet, in the midst of all their tragedies, these 6 families, arriving from all directions across Kansas, met and bonded during their lengthy stays at RMH.

“I remember two girls introducing themselves to me in the kitchen, and I'm thinking to myself ‘They have no idea what we have just been through and I'm not in the mood to talk right now’. But as we talked, I realized they were going through exactly the same things we were.” says Tammy Ewy.

“On the first night we were there, we were so scared and feeling so alone,” says Jennifer Turner. “We checked in late at the RMH and there were several people in the dining room.....which later turned out to be our Preemie Family. I remember feeling a sense of comfort knowing that I wasn't the only one with my first baby being somewhere different than where I was. Each night we all learned more about each other in that dining room and each night I made life long friends.”

The families spent a humbling, yet gratitude filled Thanksgiving meal together at the RMH. A few of the families were in the position to return home for a few hours to see their extended families. Yet, they all chose to spend it with their "new" family, knowing they were going through the same emotions together. Jennifer adds “I honestly wouldn't trade our time at RMH for anything.”

Over the many stress filled weeks, the families looked forward to late night ‘therapy sessions’ with each other, helped fill the lonely voids when spouses returned home, even watched older siblings so families could still sneak in some Christmas shopping. As each family was released or transferred, one by one, the others took turns completing daily chores or helping run errands to help expedite the family’s departure, all the while cheering on the milestones of the remaining families - as minor as they were some days. Two babies remained hospitalized through the Christmas holiday: the Doherty’s were able to transfer back to Salina and that left the Ewy’s as the last to leave the RMH.

“I thought it would be comforting to at least be back in our hometown,” recalls Melissa. “We slept at the hospital every night so we were actually closer to our baby than before, but it just felt so empty and alone. No familiar faces when we walked in the NICU. No one to share meals or stories with. Even our families couldn’t possibly comprehend what we were still going through. I absolutely missed the comfort of the RMH and our new friends.”

It’s easy to say ‘Let’s keep in touch’, but with the added therapy appointments, surgeries and complications that come with raising preemies after they go home, schedules were crowded. Yet these six families were determined to stay together. Although the 7 kids only see each other at reunions every year, it’s obvious these 6 boys and one girl share a bond much deeper than any of us will ever know. 

In the Fall of 2001, the ‘Preemie Pals’ turned one with a group visit back to the NICU. The second year brought about new siblings and complicated schedules, but they rejoined in 2003 for their 3rd birthday at the Hutchinson Zoo. They turned four together at the Pumpkin Patch and rocked away their 5th birthday in 50s attire at a diner. Year 6 they visited Dorothy’s Wizard of Oz house in Liberal. For a belated 7th birthday, the group recently met right here at the RMH. Even though the staff has changed since their stay, the families all enjoyed their visit back and all agree that it’s important to show their children ‘The House That Love Built’.

“The staff and volunteers at RMH, as well as our Preemie Pal family, all helped turn one of the most devastating events into one of the most positive times in our lives”, says Melissa Doherty. “We sure didn’t think during those first few life threatening weeks, that 7 years later, we’d see these 7 healthy, happy kids running around together enjoying a bond that they and all of our families will enjoy for life!”

The RMH changed lives from hurt, pain and loneliness to open arms, listening ears, soft hearts, and best friends for a lifetime. Thank you to everyone involved with RMH. Not only for the temporary relief you help provide to families in need, but for helping start long term bonds for families like the “Preemie Pals’.