When Harry Met Vada: Families Connect at Spencer Hospital

posted on Monday, April 1, 2024 in Health Connections articles

Serendipity. Fate. Aligned stars. Perfect timing. All these words and phrases frequently describe when the right people accidentally happen to be at the right place at the right time. 

However, Eleanor Graves has no doubts that the best way to describe the circumstances involving an accident, a birth and a growing friendship is divine intervention.

 “I believe God put this in motion,” Eleanor said emphatically. “The timing was just impeccable. It was just the way it was supposed to be.”

The series of events Eleanor is referring to all happened in mid-January 2023, where the worlds of two families intersected at Spencer Hospital, changing all of their lives – as they each agree - for the better. 

First, Drew and Jenna’s story. 

Young couple Drew and Jenna Jacobsen were expecting their first baby. Late in her pregnancy, Jenna attended a routine prenatal appointment where she and her doctor discovered that her blood pressure was elevated. Concerned, her family physician Dr. Amy Jochims, consulted with a perinatal specialist who recommended Jenna have her labor induced the next week when she reached her 37-week mark. 

Jenna was admitted to Spencer Hospital’s Birth Center on Friday, Jan. 13, and was induced as planned. Then, she and Drew waited. And, waited. 

“Everything was very slow going until early morning Sunday when my water broke,” Jenna recalls. “Finally, I progressed to the point it was time to push. Before I did, the fetal monitor on Vada showed that her heart started tanking. There was a lot of quick thinking by everyone, but her heart was not stabilizing. I heard Dr. Jochims say, ‘We need to get her out ASAP,’ and she told the nurse to call in the surgery team. The nurse replied, ‘They’re already here.’”

Here’s the point the Jacobsens’ and Graves’ stories begin to intertwine. Next, Harry and Eleanor’s story.

Like many retired Iowa farm couples, Harry and Eleanor haven’t quite gotten the hang of leisurely retirement. While Eleanor was busy with her projects, Harry had many of his own, one of which was doing weekend hog chores at a farm in the Hartley area.

That Sunday morning Eleanor was at home, while Harry was on the farm. 

“Each weekend my job was to check the hog building, make sure they had feed and water, and if any of the pigs had died, I moved them,” Harry explained. That Sunday he found a 300-pound pig dead, so he loaded it up in the cart, as he had many times before, and transported it to the hog building door. But then something happened that never had previously - at the threshold of the door, the cart hit a rut and flipped over on top of him, pig and all. In that instant, Harry’s hip fractured. 

“I was able to get out from under the cart and pig, and managed to get to the pickup where I fortunately had my cell phone with me, as I don’t always carry it,” he said. He attempted to call a neighbor, but no answer. So, a bit reluctantly, he called 911. As he waited, he noticed the hog building door standing open that chilly January day, so he attempted to go over to close it. As his right foot stepped in a depression in the ground, he went down again. At that point, Harry couldn’t move.

The sheriff and ambulance crew arrived, transporting Harry to Spencer Hospital. Eleanor was called and rushed to the hospital to await the outcome of the surgery. She waited. And waited some more. 

Meanwhile, here’s what was happening in the surgery center.

“They prepped me for surgery and took me back to a curtained area by the operating rooms,” Harry recalls. “I then heard a lot of commotion and underneath the curtain, I could see people hurrying, but they weren’t coming to get me.”

That’s because at that moment, the surgery team had turned their attention to Jenna and her distressed, unborn baby.

Jenna recalls, “I was wheeled into surgery and put under as I heard the words, ‘When we get this baby out, be ready to start compressions.’” Unbeknownst to the sedated Jenna, though her husband Drew was all too keenly aware, once their little daughter Vada was born, she wasn’t breathing on her own nor was her heart beating. For 13 minutes the care team performed resuscitation measures, and to everyone’s great relief, they succeeded. Vada’s heart started beating on its own. 

Assisting Dr. Jochims in Vada’s delivery and life-saving measures were the surgical team and physicians Dr. Brian Wilson, OB/gynecology; Dr. Amanda Young, family medicine physician; and Dr. Michael Dirkx, the orthopedic surgeon who initially was at the surgery center to care for Harry. 

“A nurse came in and told me they had an emergency OB,” Harry said. “She explained it had been a stressful situation for everyone involved so my surgery was rescheduled for the next day.”

Eleanor admits that initially, she and her family were disappointed in the delay. “We were focused on Harry because even though he was on pain medication, he was still awaiting surgery,” she said. “But the next day Dr. Dirkx came in Harry’s room, and said, ‘I want you to know Harry saved that baby’s life. It would have been 15 minutes for a surgical team to arrive and that baby didn’t have 15 minutes.’ At that moment it hit me what a miracle it all was.”

Harry says, “Afterwards, we couldn’t stop thinking about that baby and her parents.” At a follow-up visit with Dr. Dirkx, they expressed their curiosity and good wishes for the special baby and her family, but understood and respected the family’s privacy. Dr. Dirkx suggested they write a letter and the hospital team would make sure it got into the right hands. 

Jenna says, “My privacy was carefully taken into account, but this was something we always dreamed about. We always thought ‘I wish we could meet that man that broke his hip that day,’ and then the opportunity was right in front of us in that letter.”

Throughout the following months, letters and photos were exchanged. It wasn’t until this January, shortly after Vada’s first birthday, that the two families met. 

“Seeing that little girl was so wonderful,” Eleanor commented. “It was so marvelous to get together with them.”
Harry added, “It was a blessing. She is such a sweetie. Few people can say they feel good about having an accident like I had, but after hearing the situation, I was glad everything happened as it did.”

Jenna remarked, “Our little Vada was saved because everything lined up that day and furthermore, she is thriving! She is truly a miracle, and we consider Harry one of her heroes – alongside Dr. Jochims, Dr. Young, Dr. Wilson, Dr. Dirkx and all of the nurses and response team members who were there that day. We are truly fortunate to have the staff we do at Spencer Hospital. Drew and I both have said we can’t imagine if this had happened to us at any other place.”

  1. childbirth
  2. children
  3. women's health