Renner Wollman wasn’t even expected to make it out of the womb alive. On Friday, he celebrates his second birthday.
While pregnant with her third child, Karen Wollman and her husband Brian, of South Dakota, were told that the baby had many complications, including Down syndrome and hydrops fetalis, which causes fluid to build up in the body.
“When doctors told us he was likely to be stillborn, I heard and understood that, but yet something in me just said (to) hold onto hope,” the 38-year-old mother tells the News.
Karen delivered Renner via an emergency C-section once an echocardiogram revealed the baby’s organs were failing.
“I was extremely calm during that whole day,” she said. “A peace just set over me. I don’t know what it was, if it’s a mothers instinct, I have no idea, (but) I’m grateful for (it), because I was able to not freak out and get so upset.”
Renner, born with a full head of black hair, took one full breath before being hooked up to life support. He was sent to intensive care and put on machines to keep him breathing. He had kidney failure, and he needed 13 blood transfusions because he was so anemic.
Renner’s parents and siblings — Riley, 10, and Paisley, 6 — stayed with him and read him stories, played the radio and held his hand.
But after 2 ½ months, little Renner started to get worse, and doctors feared the worst. Palliative care doctors asked Karen what she wanted to do, and she said she wanted to hold him. They planned to have baby Renner transported home to say their last goodbyes. They didn’t plan his funeral, but they started getting ready.
“Somebody made us a special quilt for when he would die in our arms,” Wollman said.
She was devastated to let her child go, but “it’s something I made peace with,” she said.
“I promised him that as long as he fought I would keep fighting for him, and until he showed me some little sign that he was done fighting, I would keep fighting for him,” Wollman added. “I don’t know what that sign would have been, (but) I promised him that I would honor his journey, to bring him home when it was time to say goodbye.”
Wollman finally got to hold her son — detached from his many life support machines — as she prepared to bid her baby farewell. But what happened next was a miracle that doctors can’t explain.
“I sat and held him that day for four hours, and little by little, from that moment on, he started improving,” she said.
In January 2013, more than six months after he was born, Renner came home. Though he still has some medical issues, “what he deals with now are just minor details compared to everything he’s already endured,” Wollman said. Renner can now crawl and climb steps, and he recently got braces for his feet.
“I wholeheartedly believe it was a combination of the amazing medical team, a determination that Renner had within him and being touched by the hand of grace,” she said.
Having this experience has inspired Wollman to cherish every day with her family.
“He’s my hero,” she said, choking back tears. “I would never want him to endure what he’s gone through, but yet I’m grateful because it has given me a whole new outlook on life.”
On Friday, the family will travel to the Sanford Children’s NICU, as is now tradition, to once again thank the team that saved Renner’s life. They’ll be bringing root beer floats for staff members and other parents with babies in the NICU, with the message that “hope floats.”
“The reason we’re sharing Renner’s story is to try to give hope to others,” Wollman said. “It was pure agony to watch him go through so much, but yet we just felt anchored by hope and that’s what we want to give to others … If you can just keep calm in your heart, the storm within doesn’t need to rage and somehow you can make it through.”