Almost a year ago Drew and Lisa Vanderkleed’s two-year-old son Logan spent a week at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health following a freak accident. Logan died on Aug. 24, 2017. His parents talk about what life has been like in the past year.
Two. It is a number that speaks to Lisa Vanderkleed.
She was one of two children who grew up in Kentucky with her parents Paul and Joni Koeninger. Two months after she and her husband Drew met on a Christian dating site, they began talking about marriage. She knew then that she wanted two children.
“I always wanted two children growing up. I wanted an even number. Right after we had Logan, we talked about having another baby but I felt like we were done. Our family was complete,” said Lisa Vanderkleed.
The couple married June 26, 2010 in Main Street Baptist Church in Lisa’s Kentucky home. Drew, a graduate of Lafayette’s McCutcheon High School, grew up with one older sister and one younger sister, the children of Curt and Lori Vanderkleed. He made a career of farming corn and soybeans alongside his father.
After their marriage, Lisa and Drew designed and built a gray ranch with black shutters, located on three acres of the family’s Lafayette farm. There’s a swing set and wading pool in the backyard and a large porch out front overlooking a country road.
Their first child, Kendra was born on the second day of April 2012. Two years later, their son Logan arrived on Oct. 9, 2014.
Two months before his birthday, last August Logan was doing what he loved best – hanging out with his sister, dad and grandpa on the farm. Lisa Vanderkleed was at Lafayette Christian School just starting a new job as a fourth-grade teacher.
The Vanderkleed’s lives changed in minutes. The number two – that had become so familiar to Lisa - took on new meaning.
Drew and his father had parked the family Ford Explorer under a shade tree on the farm, while they moved some tools on a sultry August day. Logan and Kendra snuggled down on the seats of the air-conditioned vehicle for afternoon naps. The Explorer was parked as close to their dad’s work area as the kids’ backyard play set is to the family’s living room window. They were in his line of vision.
Two-year-old Logan rallied from his nap and managed to push the automatic switch to roll down the car’s window. When his dad looked over, Logan’s neck was caught in the window.
Drew and his father seldom called Lisa when they were working on the farm. But on this day, Lisa Vanderkleed was at the front office of Lafayette Christian School completing some paperwork at the end of the day when she recognized the number of the incoming call. The reception was poor. On the other end of the line she heard: “Answer me. Answer me.” She returned the call and the words she heard were clear: “It’s not good. It’s not OK. Logan is bad. He rolled his neck up in the car window.”
All she knew was that her son was still alive and she needed to get to him quickly. She raced out of the school screaming and crying; a co-worker drove her and they were en route to the farm when they learned that an ambulance was transporting Logan to the same Lafayette hospital where he was born. At first she was told she wouldn’t be able to see her son because LifeLine was preparing to transport him to Riley Hospital for Children.
But Drew and a nurse eventually led her down a hallway where she saw about 20 emergency personnel standing outside an emergency room. She knew then the situation was grave. She touched her son’s tiny hands and his tiny feet, and kissed his cheeks before he was whisked away onto a landing pad and airlifted to Riley Hospital.
The accident still remains surreal to Lisa. The details are raw. It happened months ago but in her mind, it could have been yesterday.
“Logan loved being on the farm. Every day he’d say he wanted to go to work with Daddy. It was Drew’s dream to have his children grow up on the farm,” said Lisa. “I was a mother hen, wanting to protect my kids with bubble wrap. When they were with their dad, they’d play in the irrigator and get their socks and shoes wet, eat lunch near the railroad tracks, climb and run. I’m always nervous because that’s how my mom was. She worried about me going into the ocean on vacation because she thought a shark might eat me, or I might drown. She worried about me riding a roller coaster at an amusement park because I might get stuck at the top. Drew and I are complete opposite with that but I know that’s why God brought us together.”
Drew agrees that their parenting tactics are different.
“The only way to stop from dying is to keep them from living. I recognize my desire to overprotect and I have to understand that my children’s desire is to live – to swim, jump on the trampoline and hang out on the farm,” said Drew. “To deprive them of that would be a crime.”
But neither Drew nor Lisa ever imagined an accident as tragic as the one on August 17, 2017. They also never imagined facing the tough decisions that come with losing a child.
A police officer drove the couple to Riley Hospital. Lisa spent the hour-long ride texting friends and family members asking for prayers. At Riley, several staff members including Dr. Alicia Teagarden, who told them the dreaded news, met them: Logan had a traumatic brain injury due to lack of oxygen. The next few days would be crucial.
For the next week, Lisa and Drew spent time sleeping in Logan’s room and at the Ronald McDonald House. Friends and family remained nearby in the waiting room praying for a miracle. Everyone looked for signs of hope. Lisa thought she saw signs in messages from strangers serving them meals. She thought she saw signs in bible verses that would come to her.
They waited for a miracle.
On August 23, six days after Logan was admitted to Riley Hospital, the family made a painful decision to remove his ventilator. Before they did, Lisa snipped bits of Logan’s hair and staff members made painted prints of his fingers on paper and molds of his hand and foot. They recorded his heartbeat and observed a time of silence. The Vanderkleeds agreed to organ donation.
“I played ‘Trust in You” by Lauren Daigle. Nurses and doctors surrounded him. We watched videos of Logan playing on the trampoline, singing, dancing,” said Lisa. All the while his oxygen level would rise and then fall. Family members joined them to sing praise and worship songs. They took turns holding him. And after eight hours, Logan’s little chest relaxed. Resting in Lisa’s arms he took his last breath.
As she sits in the living room of her rural home looking out at the play set that Logan loved, Lisa talks about the staff and care at Riley. She remains in touch with nurse Marci Weesner who worked overtime to be by their side.
“As much as they feel I did for them in caring for their son, they renewed my sense of purpose in my career,” said Weesner, who has been a PICU nurse at Riley for 20 years. “Watching them in such a tragic time was like seeing a beautiful piece of art in hope, love and faith. This entire family will always hold a very dear place in my heart.”
Even though some days are spent just going through the motions, Lisa focuses her attention on her daughter who loves to swim, eat ice cream from the local “Pink Walrus” and hang out with her dad on the farm.
Lisa talks openly about the counseling that has helped her in the months since her son’s accident. She also talks about a butterfly that landed on her at the cemetery and the rainbow that appeared on the day of Logan’s funeral, giving them hope.
In April the couple learned they are pregnant with another child due in December. They recently learned it is a boy. Even as they anticipate the birth of another child, they continue to mourn the death of Logan. They may always mourn that loss.
Around her neck, Lisa wears a silver charm of Logan’s fingerprint. She wears a second one on her ring finger and on her wrist is a bracelet bearing her son’s name and an etching of his heartbeat.
In the past year they have found strength through friends and family members who have organized scholarships, fundraisers and an outpouring of support. Lisa has also connected with families in Colorado, Australia, and the Carolinas who faced similar tragedies. Mostly Lisa and Drew rely on their faith to get them through each day.
They hope to one day meet the family who received one of Logan’s heart valves. They were prepared to donate his kidney but timing was of essence and in the end the organ lacked the necessary oxygen to make it viable.
Since the accident, the family has kept a Facebook page “Love for Logan.” On August 24 Lisa posted: “At 1:07 a.m., Logan went to be with the Lord. We are comforted knowing he is in the best place possible. It will be hard for sure though... Thank you for your prayers and please continue to pray for all of us, especially his sister Kendra. You all say I'm strong, but you are all the strong ones. Praise be to God in the Highest.”
Since that day, the page has filled up with favorite pictures, videos, inspirational quotes and milestones completed as they make it through each holiday without Logan.
Today, in their single-story home the Vanderkleeds hold tight to memories of Logan. A living room shelf is filled with photos, poems, and symbolic keepsakes – like tractors and angels. In his bedroom, a large stuffed bear sits on his bed and his name is displayed on the wall. Some things have not changed.
It’s like putting one foot in front of another – walking the journey through grief one day at a time. They recently joined other families and caregivers at IU Health for the annual Riley Critical Care Walk-a-Thon. The Vanderkleeds were nominated by Dr. Teagarden and Nurse Kristen Freeman as an “ICU Family Champion.” It was an opportunity for them to reconnect and renew relationships with Logan’s caregivers and help raise funds for critical care research benefitting Riley patients.
After the walk Lisa said: “Kendra had fun playing games and dunking Dr. Brian Leland and Dr. Kevin Valentine in the dunking booth.”
Even on the good days, life without Logan is beyond any pain imaginable for these parents, but as they think about Logan’s legacy, Lisa talks about his energy. At the age of two he caught fish on a family trip to Minnesota. She also talks about how he constantly made others laugh.
“Logan wasn’t your typical two-year-old. He was more like four. He could climb a slide at one and half. I think we thought he was more advanced, older than he actually was. He was so happy. He was always entertaining and had an adorable personality,” said Lisa.
As she thinks about the night before the accident she pauses and reflects on the rush of the day.
“We always had a bedtime routine reading stories and praying together. I’d sit in the rocker and sing songs with Logan and give him stickers that he would put on the pages of his sticker book. I will always read bedtime stories and stick to those routines no matter how long it takes because you never know when you may never be able to do it again.”
When Drew thinks of Logan’s legacy he says: “He taught us that life is a gift and we should always recognize the creator. We’re not in control as much as we wish we were. Yes, I cry and then I remind myself that he was a gift from God so he was never truly mine. God will fulfill his purpose.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.