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Success Stories

Ronald McDonald House helps Holyrood parents

Main cutline information: With their farmland in the background, the Petermanns – daughter Emily, mom Stephanie, baby Silas and dad Michael – snuggle on a blanket.

On March 21, Stephanie Petermann was enjoying a healthy pregnancy and looking forward to meeting her baby face-to-face sometime around his July 7 due date. But on March 22, without warning, contractions woke her up. 

Holyrood, the small Central Kansas town that the Petermann family calls home, doesn’t have a hospital, so Michael Petermann drove his wife 27 miles to a hospital in Great Bend. The medical staff there spent most of March 23 trying to stop her premature labor, but when they weren’t able to do that, they put Stephanie Petermann on an emergency flight to Wichita’s Wesley Medical Center. At just 24 weeks and six days into the pregnancy, her baby’s life was hanging in the balance.

“Your life just stops,” Stephanie Petermann says, recalling that night.

Silas John Petermann came into the world early the next morning weighing 2 pounds, 1 ounce. Even with specialized intensive care, no one could guarantee that he would survive. “It was so unbelievably scary,” Stephanie Petermann says. “We just didn’t know what to expect from one minute to the next.”

This crisis had taken the Petermanns hours away from their farm, and it had given them no time to prepare for the challenges that the months ahead would bring. At first, they didn’t know where they would sleep or eat. Their sole priority was staying close to Silas.

A hospital staff member encouraged the Petermanns to contact Wichita’s Ronald McDonald House, a nonprofit organization that provides a home away from home for families with critically ill children. “When I called to make the reservation, they said a room had just opened up,” Stephanie Petermann says. “Had I called earlier in the day, they wouldn’t have had room for us.” A Ronald McDonald House is right across the street from the hospital, so the Petermanns could be with Silas at a moment’s notice while also having a comfortable place to rest, eat meals, do laundry and connect with other families facing similar struggles.

More than 85 percent of the families helped by Wichita’s two Ronald McDonald Houses live in Kansas, and approximately 85 percent of those families have low incomes. Without financial donations, a room at the Ronald McDonald House for one night would cost a family about $65. A $25,000 grant from the Kansas Health Foundation helps support more than 600 of these families in need. Contributions and grants make it possible for the Ronald McDonald House to charge just $15 per night and offer additional scholarships to families that can’t afford to pay.

“Many families from rural areas around the state need us because the hospitals in their towns just can’t deal with that kind of crisis,” says Patt Martin, a house manager at the Ronald McDonald House where the Petermanns stayed. “Even at $15 a night, if you’re here for months – and many families are – that can get expensive. So with the scholarships we’re able to give here, we hope it just gives them a sense of relief financially.”

The first few weeks in the hospital tested the Petermanns’ strength and Silas’ will to fight for his life. The tiny boy was often hooked up to a ventilator, and sometimes several days would pass before his parents could hold him again. “We waited 21 days for him to open his eyes,” Michael Petermann says. At least six rounds of antibiotics helped Silas battle several infections, which can be life-threatening for a premature baby. He was also diagnosed with a bowel issue and treated several times for jaundice.

But even during the hardest days, Stephanie Petermann took to heart a conversation she’d had with another mother at the Ronald McDonald House whose daughter was in the hospital undergoing treatment for leukemia. One day, the mother came into the kitchen and said that her child had died. “She just told us to be thankful that we had a reason to be at the hospital with our children,” Stephanie Petermann says. “To cherish every day, even the bad ones, because that’s another day you have with your child.”

Once Silas’ health began to stabilize, he still needed to gain weight before going home.

“When you have a child in the NICU, there really is no such thing as planning,” Stephanie Petermann says. “After we’d been there for a while, it felt good to help the new families coming in and let them know that chances are things are going to be OK at the end, but it’s going to be a very hard road to get there.”

After 86 days in the hospital, the Petermanns were finally able to bring Silas home to the Holyrood farm where his father grew up.

On a warm and windy evening in mid-August, Silas snuggles into his mother’s arms and drinks some pear juice from a bottle. He’s now 41/2 months old and weighs about 8 pounds, 5 ounces -- a typical weight for a newborn. Doctors and developmental specialists are following his progress, but Silas no longer needs any medications or monitors.

His doting sister, Emily, loves to put Silas in his stroller and give him rides around the house. She’s the one who suggested the name Silas, after a character in “Septimus Heap,” a series of novels she enjoys. Her face lights up with a grin as she leans over the couch, watching Silas’ every move.

After finishing his bottle, Silas gets a little workout by vigorously waving his arms, kicking his feet and balling his tiny hands into fists. 

“He’s always been this active from the day he was born,” Stephanie Petermann says. “We were joking that that’s why he came early, because he thought he ran out of room.” 

When Dad takes a turn holding him, Silas nestles against him and coos. “Hey Squeaker,” Michael Petermann says softly to his son. “He’s just now starting to coo and talk and grin a little bit.”

The Petermanns say staying at the Ronald McDonald House during Silas’ medical crisis lifted part of the burden from their shoulders, and they’re grateful for the help and support that came from the staff and volunteers there.

“I would just say thank you and that I think they are wonderful people for giving their time and energy to the Ronald McDonald House, and I hope that they realize how special they are for doing that,” Stephanie Petermann says. “I feel that my son is better off because of the fact that the Ronald McDonald House exists.”

For more information

  • Call Ronald McDonald House Charities of Wichita at 316-269-4182
  • Visit their Web site at www.rmhcwichita.org
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