A bittersweet meeting of two families forever bonded by an act of selfless love and sacrifice took place earlier this month on an Indiana corn farm.
The couples met nearby a small rock garden built to memorialize the death of Logan, the 2-year-old son of Drew and Lisa Vanderkleed, who died last year in a tragic accident.
Joining the Vanderkleeds at the memorial garden were Jeramy and Sarah Wilson of De Soto, the parents of 3-year-old Preslee and the couple’s 13-month-old, Lillian, who is alive today because of the donation of Logan’s aortic heart valve.
More about that in a moment, but first, here’s the story of why Lillian needed the transplant to survive.
The first year of life has been a difficult one for the little girl who was born with a heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot Pulmonary Atresia — a congenital condition that has already required the child undergo multiple heart surgeries, the third of which took place after Christmas last year.
According to Sarah, a first-grade teacher at Washington-Franklin Elementary in Farmington, her little girl had seven seizures, three cardiac arrests and a blood clot, along with having to spend three days on life support.
“It’s been quite the journey,” she said. “With her third open-heart surgery in December, she’ll be good for a while, but she’ll need more heart surgeries in the future. For now, they just monitor.”
Despite the many challenges she’s faced, Lillian is beginning to catch up with her peers.
“She’s a little delayed and looks a lot younger than she is because she’s so tiny for her age, but she’s doing really well catching up” Wilson said. “She has a therapist and nutritionist that works with her to help her reach her milestones. We see cardiology pretty regularly, but other than that she’s a typical baby.”
The timeline for the need of future surgeries is unknown, but the aortic heart valve transplant has proved to be a literal lifesaver for Lillian.
“It kind of depends,” Wilson said. “They put an artificial valve inside of her, which was created with the donor tissue from the family we met last weekend. It kind of depends on how that works. It can shrink, and it depends on how fast she grows. They say that within the next five years she’ll need her next open-heart surgery.”
This brings us to the Vanderkleeds and the loss of their young son, Logan, who died last August after his neck was caught in a car window. His parents decided to donate what tissue they could, and Logan’s aortic heart valve went to Lillian.
Meeting at the farm, the two families embraced and then Sarah handed her daughter to Lisa Vanderkleed. The two mothers had met while visiting sites on Facebook dedicated to their children. They began exchanging electronic messages and phone calls for several months, which led to the pair making plans for the July meeting.
In an interview with Indianapolis TV station WTHR, Lillian’s father, Jeramy, said, "A tragic accident and we really don't know how to say it, but we actually benefited from this and it's helped save our daughter's life and I hope that it's helped bring peace to Logan's family.”
Sarah asked, "How do you thank someone that saved your kid? You can't. I think that's why it was important for us to be here. I can't thank them and say sorry you lost your son, but my daughter's still here. But I can say that your son saved my kid."
Logan's parents listened to Lillian's heartbeat as Drew Vanderkleed expressed the comfort the couple has received from knowing their son gave something of himself to the little girl whose life he had saved.
“She gets to live and it's just a beautiful thing," he said.
On her Facebook page, Sarah Wilson wrote, “Wow. What an emotional weekend it has been. Meeting the Vanderkleeds was amazing and so rewarding. We went to the zoo and pink walrus which were some of Logan's favorite places.
“We also went to his grave site and attended their church where we got some amazing pictures. Preslee enjoyed swimming and playing with Kendra. We traded amazing gifts as well. Such a rewarding and emotional time. I'm sad to be going home tomorrow.”
The Vanderkleeds are expecting another baby boy in December, just before Christmas.