After being told he was unable to have children, a local man received the blessing of becoming a father. Two days after his wife gave birth to their “miracle,” though, a nurse told them something was significantly wrong with the baby’s health.
Steve Laun, Abilene resident and father of Jessalyn Laun, now three weeks old, said he was crushed.
Immediately after discovering the problem, the nurse arranged for Irwin Army Community Hospital to life-flight Jessalyn to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO.
Tests at Children’s Mercy Hospital revealed Jessalyn had two rare heart defects.
For two nights, Steve and Courtney, Jessalyn’s mother, stayed in a Ronald McDonald room at the health center. Further complications required the couple to spend their nights in Jessalyn’s hospital room. Courtney slept on a 3-foot-wide hide-a-bed while Steve slept on the floor.
During their waking hours they sat with their daughter.
Tested in the nick of time
Courtney said it was providential that she had the birth at a hospital that runs the pulse oximetry screening for critical congenital heart disease.
“Fort Riley just started doing this test and the nurse that did this test found out there was something severely going wrong, so she pushed her out really quickly to try to get her life-flighted out to a better place to take care of her,” Courtney said.
Courtney and Steve followed in their car. When they arrived at Children’s Mercy on Sept. 10, an ECG and an EKG discovered Jessalyn had two heart defects: an interrupted aortic arch and a hole in her aorta pulmonary window. Jessalyn received open-heart surgery on Sept. 11. After the surgery, doctors attached her sternum and ribcage back together with titanium wire. Two days later, two of the wires broke and Jessalyn contracted a staph infection. On Sept. 17 she had her second surgery – an open-heart surgery to replace her broken wires.
“The doctors at Children’s Mercy kept saying had they not found this when she was in a healthy state, she could have died really easily and quickly,” Courtney said. “Since they found this early, then they were able to actually treat it quicker and save her life and her recovery is a lot quicker.”
Courtney said the test was the key that found baby Jessalyn’s heart defect but the test is not required in Kansas.
“(The test) should be statewide but it’s not,” Courtney said. “If they hadn’t run these tests, we never would have known. She would have become very, very sick and she would have died.”
The Launs said they are thinking about writing to lawmakers to make pulse oximetry screening for critical congenital heart disease a state law.
Life beyond hospital
Jessalyn came home to Abilene for the first time on Saturday, Sept. 14. Her parents plan to take her to a cardiologist in Kansas City next week for a check-up. They will probably continue to make check-up visits for months. She takes three different medications every day, but Courtney said Jessalyn eventually will not need them anymore.
Steve said his hope for Jessalyn is “for her to grow up to have a normal, happy life and not have any complications.”
One of the Launs’ current complications is money. Joe Dinkel, best friend of Steve and co-owner with Steve of J & S Hometown Cycles, said the Launs’ recent surgeries and ongoing medications and cardiologist trips cause major financial strain on the family. The family also has two older children from Courtney’s previous marriage: Dakota, 12 and Shayla, 11.
In response to his friend’s need, Dinkel has organized the sale of jelly bracelets and drawstring bags printed with Jessalyn’s name. The bracelets, which are purple with Jessalyn’s name in pink, are available at the office of J & S Hometown Cycles, 101 N. Cedar St., for $5 each.
A local graphics company printed drawstring bags with J & S Hometown Cycles’ logo. The bags are available at the office of J & S Hometown Cycles: $10 for one bag or two for $15.
Additionally, Dinkel set up money jars at Sweet Daddy’s and Gibbs Retail Liquor Store.
Furthermore, Dinkel organized a fundraiser for the Launs. The event will include sandwiches, hot dogs, chips and sodas, plus a raffling of prizes donated by local businesses. The KSU Bakery Science Club committed to bringing pastries and cookies for donation. The bracelets, bags and money jars will all be available at the event. The fundraiser will take place from 1 to 6 p.m. on Sunday at Eisenhower Park. All proceeds from donations and sales go directly to the Laun family.
“The community has been incredible,” Dinkel said. “I never expected the help that we have received. I grew up in Los Angeles and you’d never see something like this. I mean, we had a Facebook post about this and a lady, she didn’t know Steve or myself, but she was like, ‘Whatever you need, I can help you with.’”
Dinkel said the woman from the Facebook post is just one of the people who have showed kindness that Dinkel said surprised him.
A few weeks ago, Dinkel bought a ticket to attend a spaghetti dinner for the Chapman High School Marching Band to travel to Texas to perform at the Alamo Bowl. In the midst of supporting another cause, Dinkel found support for his own.
“The lady over there told me to make sure to bring my information to the spaghetti feed because she wanted to let people there know,” Dinkel said. “People are just incredible.”
Dinkel said many people who live in Abilene are acquainted with Steve.
“Steve’s the kind of guy that, he never asks for anything from anybody,” Dinkel said. “He’s the first one to jump up and help somebody. Day or night, he doesn’t care. I mean, that’s the type of person he is. They know him as Scuba Steve because he’ll dive into anything. And even the baby has her nickname already. They call her Lugnut.”
Steve said he appreciates all the help and support.
“We’ve had a lot of people behind us, praying for us,” Steve said. “We got a lot of prayers and a lot of people came out of the woodwork, so it showed how tight-knit a community Abilene can be.”