Daughter's birth transforms first-time father into a new man
The universe shifted when Bryan Schultz found out he was going to be a father.
The 35-year-old quit his over-the-road trucking job, which kept him away from home weeks at a time, and he made a conscious decision to be there for his family.
"I did not want to miss out on anything in my daughter's life," Bryan said. "Being around is a big deal for me now, which never used to be."
Early in the pregnancy, Bryan and his girlfriend Danielle Pann learned that their daughter would have a complex and rare heart defect. When little Lana Leola Schultz was born May 2, the left side of her heart was critically underdeveloped.
"She is missing half her heart," Bryan said.
Doctors at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee first thought they could mend her with a series of heart surgeries, beginning when she was only 4 days old. But they found that her coronary artery was on the wrong side of her heart. They detached it and re-attached it in the proper place.
After the 13-hour operation, surgeons could not close the infant's chest because of swelling.
"She is too puffy to put her back together," Bryan explained. "She has a clear patch over her chest. We can see her heart beating."
The tiny muscle brought Bryan to tears the first time he saw it pumping.
"It is a sight to see," he said. "The doctors got her through the surgery. But there were enough complications to know that she would need a transplant."
Bryan celebrates the small steps of his daughter's progress, and he waits for her to be well enough for a new heart. Six-week-old Lana Leola continues to show grit.
"You don't realize what a little baby can go through," Bryan said. "The things she has been through already are more than most people endure in their whole lives."
Bryan, formerly of Janesville, and Danielle moved to East Troy late last year.
On Father's Day, Bryan will probably do what he has done since Lana Leola's birth: Sit by her side, closely watch the monitors connected to her fragile body and string together the courage beads Lana Leola receives from the hospital for every procedure she receives.
On days when he is not working at Janesville's Printer Parts Exchange, he arrives at the hospital before 7 a.m. At the cardiac intensive care unit, he asks the nurse how his daughter did during the night. After sterilizing his husky hands, Bryan lightly touches Lana Leola on the forehead or gently strokes her tiny fingers.
"Her eyes wake up when she hears me laugh," Bryan said. "I say good morning. I look around at all the monitors and their numbers. I've learned what they all mean. Then, I wait for the doctors to do their rounds. That's when I ask questions."
Much of the time, Bryan—a burly man with a bald head and long goatee—just sits in the room and stares at his infant. He and Danielle look forward to the day when they can hug their daughter.
"We both held her twice before she was opened up," Bryan said.
They look forward to the day when she cries.
"We've never heard her make a sound," Bryan explained. "She doesn't have the capability to do that now."
They look forward to the day when they can see Lana Leola's face without ventilator tubes coming out of her nose.
"Everyone asks who she looks like," Bryan said. "It's hard to know because of her breathing tube, which is taped over her nose to her cheeks. You can't see her face like a normal baby's."
Still, Bryan thinks Lana Leola is the most adorable child in the world.
"I can't imagine loving anyone more," he said, flush with the fine feeling of fatherhood.
Before the birth of his daughter, he never considered himself an optimist.
"Now, I've learned about the power of thinking positively," Bryan said. "This experience has restored my good thoughts of mankind. The people we deal with here on a daily basis are amazing. Even the janitors smile, when we come into the hospital in the morning."
He knows that a new heart for his daughter would be tinged with sorrow.
"I realize another baby must be lost for mine to live," he said. "It is a sad thought."
People close to Bryan see how his new daughter has kindled his kindness.
"He is so caring with her," said Karen Zweifel, Bryan's mom. "It is a side of him we've never seen. He has transformed into a different person. I thought he would never have kids. He has even talked about being a stay-at-home dad."
Bryan would not have considered the possibility a year ago.
"We can't send our daughter to daycare," he said. "She will have too many medical needs."
Danielle teaches German at Elkhorn High School, where supportive teachers donated their personal days so she could stay at the hospital after Lana Leola's birth, instead of returning to school.
"I can't imagine going to work and leaving her alone," Danielle said. "Teachers also have given us gas cards, calls and greeting cards. We feel really lucky to be in such a wonderful community."
Bryan can't say enough good things about his new daughter.
"She is the best thing that has ever happened to me," he said. "Even with all this stuff we are going through, she is a true blessing."
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.