Sussex mother, daughter reunite with Waukesha Memorial staff one year after birthing scare
Randy and Joanna Dahl of Sussex celebrate their daughter Zoe’s first birthday at Waukesha Memorial Hospital with the team who helped save both Joanna and Zoe last year. Photo by: Chris Kuhagen
There were smiles. There were laughs. And there were tears.
If you were in the third floor room inside the Waukesha Memorial Hospital, you most likely experienced these emotions.
Nurses and doctors came from different departments within the hospital, but they all came together on this afternoon to celebrate life.
Life of Joanna Dahl and her 1-year-old daughter, Zoe.
"They both look great," said Maria Davies, a registered nurse, who took a break during her schedule to see a glowing Joanna and a spunky Zoe, dressed in a colorful dress who also donned a yellow pedal in her brown hair.
"Joanna is very much an inspiration," added Jodi Zelinger, another nurse in the labor delivery unit who also later shared a personal moment with mother and daughter.
"She's a miracle," explained veteran nurse Sue Kellermann.
Ready to give birth
They feel this way because they know what mother and daughter experienced 12 months ago.
That's when at this same hospital, these nurses, along with other doctors, saw Joanna and Zoe during a much darker moment.
It's a day these professionals won't ever forget, many of them said.
Randy and Joanna came to Waukesha Memorial Hospital Aug. 30, 2012 from their Sussex home ready to welcome their third child into the world.
The nine months of pregnancy went as smooth as can be and Mom was looking forward to a similarly smooth delivery, something that occurred with their two older children.
"There were no problems with our other two kids," Randy said of their 5-year-old daughter, Christina, and their son, Dimitri, 3. "Just expected the same. Didn't expect things to go south."
But as Randy explains, "the worse case scenario became."
Joanna stops breathing
With Randy by her side, Joanna was progressing through labor just fine. But after suddenly feeling ill, the then 34-year-old stopped breathing for reasons not known.
The nurse at her bedside immediately went into action calling in more help. One physician performed CPR on Joanna to keep blood flowing to her unborn child.
As more doctors and nurses entered the room, Randy exited the room "terrified."
"Nobody wants to see CPR being performed on their wife while their baby is being delivered," said Randy, who added he went into a waiting area alone "with so much uncertainty."
How could something that was supposed to be so beautiful turn so dire so quickly he thought.
"There were so many unanswered questions," he remembered.
Their baby was saved as two other physicians delivered the newborn.
Road to recovery
But Joanna was taken to the intensive care unit as her new baby girl was taken to the newborn intensive care unit for observation.
During the first few hours after Joanna stopped breathing, there was a moment of silence to pray for Joanna and her newborn throughout the hospital, one nurse remembered.
Joanna suffered a significant amount of blood loss and was in a coma for three days. Her vital signs did not return to normal for a significant amount of time.
In fact, she remained in ICU for five days. Her condition eventually improved and she did not experience any residual effects of the experience. Many of the nurses say they had never encountered a day like that during their careers.
"I get goosebumps thinking about it," said nurse Sandi Pagenkopf.
No memory of experience
As Joanna progressed, Randy began sharing with her what she had been through in the last week.
"I have no memory of it," Joanna said. "I feel almost fake because half the words I'm telling you are through the words of my husband and not through my own experience because my experience started seven days after and so there's a big void."
Joanna left the hospital 10 days later and while she didn't have the same joy when her other two children were born, she began filling this void in the days after.
She didn't tell her older daughter about the incident upon coming home.
"At this point all she needs to worry about is that we're here and we're happy," Joanna said. "One big happy family and we got many memories to make."
One of these memories now includes the reunion with the team that helped save her life and her baby's life.
Randy was looking forward to this day as it was a chance for him to say thank you and reconnect with these individuals. Joanna was thankful as well as she called them "her miracle workers." But she has a different perspective of this anniversary.
"It feels very sad, actually," Joanna admitted, while adding she wanted this day to be more about celebrating the hospital staff. "Having to stop for a moment (on her birthday) and understand what happened to my husband and what he had to go through makes me really sad. I couldn't imagine anyone going through such uncertainty not only for their child but their wife. It just is sad. His wife was slipping away at his fingertips in moments. How dreadful of an experience."
This experience has now helped change Randy and Joanna's outlook on life.
"It's unfortunate sometimes how you have to see the bad in order to appreciate the good," Joanna said. "It definitely reminds us that life is fragile and we have to enjoy and celebrate every moment and not worry about little things that we can't control. Focus on the good and try to create a great day for yourself and the people around you."
"I think you view things a little bit differently in a more positive way," Randy added.
Name means life
The family had a small celebration on Zoe's birthday and were going to have a bigger combined party last weekend with their other daughter's sixth birthday coming up.
During that time, they'll likely recall the day that almost destroyed a family.
"At first you think about it and every time you tell the story it comes back to you," Randy said. "Having a good outcome makes it easy to talk about."
At last week's celebration, Mom and Dad also talked about how they didn't know coming into the birth whether their newborn would be a boy or girl. The Dahls had a boy's name picked out if it was a boy and Zoe, which is Greek for 'life,' was the girl's name.
How her birth unfolded gives the name Zoe even more meaning to Joanna.
"It's very ironic," Joanna said. "Everything that happened that day was very ironic. We liked to keep the name a surprise and a blessing that it is. Her name fit her very well."
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