When Jeff Heimberger was very young, he almost drowned. The co-owner/operator of Coffee Connections in Central Ohio is the living embodiment of a medical miracle. As his mom, Alice, described in a letter to her son about those terrifying days years ago, it was a “great contrast between trauma and calm.” The calm came from the support Jeff’s family received from staying at a Ronald McDonald House. Jeff shared the letter with us and we’ve highlighted some excerpts from the letter here.
In the letter, she describes the start of that fateful day. “Picture about 70 people at a church picnic. Lots of good food, followed by laughing, talking, kids and teens having great fun in the pool. Later on, “Time for lemonade & ice cream” and everyone headed across the yard. Well, all but the 3-year-old boy who, unseen by the others, fell into the water.” That little boy, was Jeff. As Jeff’s mom described it, the teens at the party ran back to the pool after quickly finishing the ice cream and one tossed a quarter into the deep end of the pool, challenging the others to find it. Jeff’s 13-year-old brother, Paul, outran the others and dove in. Instead of the quarter, he found his brother’s lifeless body at the bottom of the pool.
“[Your] father, a nurse anesthetist with considerable experience in high stress situations, and another medical professional were right there. They did CPR, noting there was no response of pupils to a flashlight. This was really bad. Daddy hoped for intubation supplies in the ambulance. Oh, no. Adult-sized only. He felt helpless, stunned, & scared,” she wrote about Jeff’s dad, Dale, frantically trying to save his son.
Jeff was taken by ambulance to a local hospital in northeast Ohio, then flown by helicopter to Akron Children’s Hospital where he was put on a ventilator while in a coma. Leaving Jeff’s brother Paul & sister Janelle with family, his mom & dad drove to be with their son. Alice says, upon arrival, she and Dale were told Jeff “might not make it through the night and also that young children who do survive a drowning usually have little or no long-term damage or else severe physical and mental impairment. It was a harrowing night. For the siblings, thoughts of the day and not knowing what was happening to their brother were intensified by separation from their parents.”
Alice writes about waiting for hours for brief times of standing at Jeff’s bedside and watching him hooked-up to tubes to keep him alive. She describes the staff, monitors, beeping/flashing equipment and other kids in the ICU in life-threatening conditions as being overwhelming. She goes on to say, “Then, back to the waiting room, in close proximity to the number of others experiencing and expressing details of their grief and trauma. Hours of clock-watching and overhearing the telling and retelling of nightmares all too real.”
Fortunately, the next morning, young Jeff came out of his coma and was moved out of ICU to a regular room. “At that point, Ronald McDonald House became home for dad, mom, brother, & sister for several days until discharge,” Jeff’s mom wrote. “What a sigh of relief: a place to gather the family from their scattering and to begin healing from the shattering scare. It provided privacy and a calming atmosphere. Ahh. A shower, beds, space, home-prepared food, non-intrusive but very caring support from volunteers.”
She tells her son in the letter that one of the setbacks he was having during the recovery was very unnerving. “…at first you fell down whenever you tried to walk and asked the same question over & over. Having been warned of possible impairments, this was very troubling. I went from Ronald McDonald House at 3 a.m. to ask nurses to check your medicine side effects that were listed under Dilaudid, which you received because of seizures in the helicopter due to brain swelling. It’s good just knowing there are Ronald McDonald Houses for those difficult situations, those needing ready accessibility to hospitals, financial help, family stability, ability to be supportive to their patient and in communication with medical personnel as directly as possible, etc. They are also beneficial to the folks who participate as community helpers – a sense of purpose, an outlet for kindness, through practical service to others…”
The happy ending to this story, of course, is that Jeff was released from the hospital and had none of the lingering affects forewarned to his parents by doctors that are so common after a near drowning. Thanks to Jeff for sharing this miraculous story as written to him by his mom for this special Mother’s Day post.
Editor’s Note: Last year, Jeff’s cafe, raised hundreds of dollars for RMHC of Central Ohio. Now, during the month of May, Coffee Connections is, again, donating tips to help us during the Covid-19 crisis as we continue to keep families close to their hospitalized kids. While the other locations are temporarily closed during the pandemic, you can order items for pick-up (and add a tip) at the Hilliard Coffee Connections everyday 7 a.m. – 12 p.m. by ordering through the cafe’s app. Download the app by texting “coffee” to 484848 or go to coffeeconnections.me/app. (Closed Sunday for Mother’s Day. ❤)