Family, staff celebrate life at Waukesha Memorial Hospital
Sussex mother, daughter reunite with nurses, doctors who helped save their lives last year
There were smiles. There were laughs. And there were tears.
If you were in the third-floor room inside Waukesha Memorial Hospital, you likely experienced all of that.
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 with a yellow petal 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 the mother and daughter experienced 12 months ago when the nurses and doctors saw the two 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 on Aug. 30, 2012, from their Sussex home ready to welcome their third child into the world.
The nine months of pregnancy went smoothly, and Joanna was looking forward to smooth delivery, just as she had with their other two 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. But after suddenly feeling ill, the then-34-year-old stopped breathing for reasons that remain unknown.
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 left 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."
He wondered how something that was supposed to be so beautiful could turn so dire so quickly.
"There were so many unanswered questions," he remembered.
Their baby was saved as two other physicians delivered the newborn.
Road to recovery
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 took a long time to return to normal.
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's condition improved, 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 that void in the days after.
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."
Name means life
The family had a small celebration on Zoe's birthday and planned 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 the 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, the Dahls 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. "We liked to keep the name a surprise and a blessing that it is. Her name fit her very well."
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- City of Waukesha will wait on potentially hiring a consultant to rebrand its downtown until next month
- West Allis man charged with mutilation in Waukesha at center of legal battle
- Waukesha GuitarTown gives $36,000 to local organizations
- Waukesha North grad celebrates fifth year at Liberty Dance Center
- Town of Waukesha sees two on ballot in 2014
- Police Report: Dec. 19
- Police Report: Dec. 12
- Former Waukesha Fire Chief Jesse Alba's appeal will most likely wait until 2014
- Waukesha County wants data before supporting stadium tax
- A 'mayor's dozen' get keys to the city in Waukesha