Last winter John and Susan Vanden Berg began a journey into parenthood. It did not start like most pregnancies, and just 12 weeks in they discovered that becoming parents was going to take a miracle.
Now, nearly a year later, they are thankful for many miracles and still praying for more.
The story of their firstborn took a dramatic turn on April 6 when an ordinary doctor’s appointment led to an emergency ultrasound because the doctor could not find a heartbeat.
During the ultrasound a heartbeat was detected but the rest of the news was not good.
The couple was informed that the heart, liver and intestines were not inside the fetus’s body.
John said they were told, “The state of the womb was not compatible with life.”
They were warned that the chances of carrying the baby to term were extremely low and that there would be many complications along the way and after delivery. They were asked if they wanted to terminate the pregnancy.
Without hesitation they said no.
That started them down the scary path of a high-risk pregnancy. Every two weeks they traveled back to the hospital for ultrasounds, waiting anxiously to hear that little heartbeat.
During this time the Vanden Bergs did lots of praying and lots of crying. Their future was uncertain, but with each passing week their hope was growing.
During one ultrasound they were informed that the heart was back inside the baby’s body. At that point the couple and their doctor began developing a possible plan for delivery.
It was decided that they needed to have the baby in a hospital that specialized in infant heart defects. The closest options were in Denver, Colo., and Ann Arbor, Mich. The couple chose Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.
They also settled on a name for the unborn boy, Kaden, which means little fighter.
The Vanden Bergs, who were told they would not make it to delivery, had a fighter who was doing what he needed in order to meet his parents.
The story of Kaden’s birth is equally as miraculous as his time in the womb.
On Sept. 18, a month before the scheduled due date, it was determined that Susan’s amniotic fluid had decreased. She was asked to return again the next day and informed that they may have to deliver soon if the fluid continued to decrease.
That night they packed their bags and set them by the front door. They were ready for a possible drive to Michigan.
At the hospital the next day they were told the baby needed to be delivered.
However, they were warned that the drive to Michigan would be risky. After spending five hours in an ultrasound room at Sanford Hospital Sioux Falls, the couple was informed that Sanford’s jet was on the runway and ready to take them to Ann Arbor.
John said, “We were told at 8:30 and by 9 p.m. we were being loaded onto a jet.”
After arriving in Ann Arbor Susan was monitored daily and the wait continued. The medical staff wanted to wait as long as possible to deliver the baby. The couple moved into the Ronald McDonald House, their home away from home for the past four months.
In a Christmas letter Susan wrote, “We kept praying and God kept our baby alive.”
Kaden John was born on Sept. 27 at 37 weeks, weighing 6 pounds, 8 ounces. The little fighter had survived delivery, but his fight was far from over.
Multiple birth defects
The list of medical problems was long: a cleft lip and palate, diaphragmatic hernia (hole in diaphragm), omphalocele (intestines outside his body), double outlet right ventricle heart defect and two holes in his heart.
John said, “These are all issues that the doctors have successfully treated before but they have not had to treat them all on one baby.”
Susan made sure to highlight that he also has “a fighting spirit, beautiful eyes and a strong grip.”
In the months following his birth Kaden has had to deal with a variety of medical issues caused by undeveloped organs. He is on a ventilator to help his lungs, the intestines are almost all back in his body and the skin on his tummy continues to grow back together. The doctors are waiting for his lungs to mature so that he can tolerate the surgeries needed to repair his heart. John said he believes that will be in March or April.
There will be other surgeries to repair the cleft lip and the diaphragm hole. They do not know when those will be. At this point they live each day thankful to have another one with their new baby boy.
“It is a rollercoaster ride — there are good days and there are bad days.”
John continued, “We have gone home (back to the Ronald McDonald House) for dinner after having a great day with Kaden only to return and find staff crowded around him.”
There have been infections, there have been setbacks, but through all of it there has been life.
Their Christmas card read, “We are thankful for the blessing of Kaden’s life and that God has carried us this far.”
Overwhelmed by and grateful for support
The Vanden Bergs said they are also overwhelmed and “forever grateful” for the support shown by their family and the community.
“The letters, prayers, gift cards, the people taking care of our acreage — we can’t begin to share our thanks and gratitude.”
They said the upcoming benefit on Feb. 9 has also warmed their hearts. John is hoping to make his first trip back to Hills so that he can share in the fellowship at the event and thank people in person.
The next week Susan has to return home as well. She must come back to fulfill a work obligation and keep the family’s health insurance.
She has a five-day shift before returning to her young fighter and her husband.
John said he knows the separation will be tough on all of them, but he said prayer will give them the strength needed until she can return to Ann Arbor.
“Someday Kaden’s heart will be fixed — it will look different inside but will work just like a normal heart,” the Vanden Bergs said. “We will stay here as long as possible to give him the help he needs.”
Benefit auction planned,
more auction items needed
A benefit for John and Susan Vanden Berg will be Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Hills Christian School Gym in Hills.
The public is invited to come and enjoy a freewill donation meal and a silent and live auction.
Organizers Charla Sandbulte and Marilyn Nelson are still collecting auction items and will until the day of the event.
Sandbulte encourages families and home businesses to makes donations.
“Nothing is too small —get some friends together, buy a couple of movies and popcorn, put them in a basket and you have a donation.”
If you are busy that day or can’t get your donation to her beforehand, Sandbulte’s team of volunteers will be available the morning of the event to pick up items.
She thanked the many businesses and area farmers who have generously given items including a plane ride, a load of gravel, baling services, hotel stays and gift certificates.
A complete list of items that have already been donated is on the John and Susan Vanden Berg Benefit event page on Facebook. Sandbulte is updating the page regularly with new items and details about the evening.