On Dec. 13, 2011, my son Joseph “Joey” Raymond Esselmann was unexpectedly born at 26 weeks gestational age. He weighed 1 pound, 15 ¾ ounces and was 13 inches long.
The doctors were unsure if Joey would survive, and if he did, whether he would have long-term complications. He spent 74 days at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
Joey is our Children’s Champion, and this is our story.
Fighting to stay alive
Joey spent the first two months of life in a heated isolette on IVs and a breathing machine, with tubes and wires hooked to his tiny body. Watching our child fight so hard to stay alive is by far the most difficult thing we have ever experienced, and it made us look at life so differently.
We realized how much we take for granted. We saw how lucky we were to have this facility in our backyard. We knew we were in the right place at the right time.
On day five, Joey opened his eyes for the first time. On day 12 — Christmas Day — I finally got to hold him. What a gift he was!
During the 74 days we spent at Children’s Hospital, I formed a bond with doctors, nurses and other parents. They were my support system through the hardest days of my life. On Feb. 24, Joey was released directly from the NICU. It was a day I will never forget.
It was so emotional and difficult. I had to step out in the world with this tiny 5-pound baby and leave the family that saved my son. They sent us home with medicine, oxygen and monitors to keep Joey breathing, and many lessons learned so that we could manage his in-home healing and recovery.
Giving back through Briggs & Al’s Run & Walk
Back on the NICU floor, the hallway was lined with framed news articles about Briggs & Al’s Run & Walk events of past years. Throughout Joey’s stay I read each article and was impressed by the event. My husband and I said we should do this run/walk someday.
In June 2012, we created Team Joey with friends, family and co-workers, and before I knew it donations started coming in. I plan to continue Team Joey for the next 18 years, and for the 19th year, my hope is that Joey becomes Team Captain and continues to give back!
This year I started training 74 days prior to the event, in honor of each day Joey spent in the NICU. Each morning run reminds me of the struggle my little boy had and how lucky I am to have him in our lives.
I run to give back to the place that saved my little boy. I want Children’s Hospital to continue to have the funding to help families like ours.
Joey is now 20 months old and weighs 27 pounds. He will continue being seen every six months at Children’s Hospital, where his development can be watched until age 3.
Joey is doing very well and is on his way to growing up like every other healthy little boy.
- Jana Esselmann, guest blogger
On Sept. 14, join over 13,000 participants from across the Midwest for Briggs & Al’s Run & Walk for Children’s Hospital. Learn more and register now at alsrun.com.