obit template2018-11-29T12:10:12+00:00

Autumn Marie

There are so many times in life when our questions remain unanswered, only to resound in the depths of our souls. There are times when life seems so unfair, so easy for some and yet seemingly impossible for others. Little Autumn Marie Zalewski was engaged in the fight for her life from the moment she was born and if her fate was based on her strength alone, she would surely have been victorious. In the short time she was here, she was touched by so many who came alongside her in her fight, but what is most amazing about her short life was the way she impacted the hearts and lives of those around her. Although her absence will forever leave a chasm in the lives of so many, those who knew and loved her find comfort in knowing that she is now in perfect health in her eternal home.

The year 2008 was an historical year in America as the people of our nation elected our first African American President in November. It was also during this year that the financial hardships continued to grip many American families as job loss, rising gas prices, and increasing costs of the most basic essentials were a harsh reality. This was a year for both celebration and hope in the family of Ralph and Laura (Lemmer) Zalewski as they welcomed the birth of their precious daughter, Autumn Marie, on October 11th. The events surrounding Autumn’s birth were certainly unique as her mother gave birth to her on the bathroom floor of St. Francis Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Along with the joy her parents felt, there was also great cause for concern since Autumn was born at only 28 weeks of gestation, weighing only 2 pounds, 12 ounces and measuring fourteen-and-a-half inches long. October 11th marked not only Autumn’s birth, but also the beginning of her fight to survive.

Because Autumn was born so early, she was transferred to St. Joseph’s Medical Center where she remained in the neo-natal intensive care unit for the following five weeks. She had a number of medical issues that needed immediate care and for this reason, her healthcare team deemed it necessary to transfer her to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Once there, Autumn underwent surgery to repair a burst intestine. When she was just two months old, she needed open heart surgery because she was lacking a heart valve that was necessary to help develop her lungs. At five months, she again underwent open heart surgery to permanently repair her heart while additional health challenges remained.

Ralph and Laura wanted nothing more than to bring their precious baby girl home, and they worked tirelessly in order to meet this goal. Finally in June of 2009, they were able to do just that, but it turned out to be only for 50 hours since she developed complications that required hospitalization once again. Their family was dealt another devastating blow when Laura miscarried a baby boy at just 14 weeks gestation during this same time period. Sadly, Laura also died on July 18, 2009.

With a renewed determination for his daughter, Ralph continued to fight for Autumn’s care. It was determined that he would not be able to care for her on his own, so she would need to be placed in medical foster care. In August, Autumn suffered heat stroke and was again admitted to Children’s Hospital where it was determined that she had brain stem damage. Like she had so many times before, Autumn amazed her caregivers with her recovery. Her team of caregivers even put a small pair of boxing gloves over her bed in recognition of the tenacious fighter she was.

Throughout the months that followed, Ralph continued to fight to bring Autumn home and in March of 2010, she was able to come home with her daddy. Father and daughter shared such a special bond. It was apparent that she recognized the sound of her daddy’s voice since a calming peace came over her when he spoke. Ralph could also sense a transfer of love between them with the touch of her hand. He was truly grateful for the superb care his baby girl received from Dr. John Thomas and the nursing staff at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Although she was only home a short 21 days before her death, Autumn, her father, and those around her shared countless precious moments during this time. She drew her last breath at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

It is amazing to see how someone so young can teach others lessons in strength, faith, and love. Autumn Zalewski was able to do this each and every day through the way she lived and through the lives she touched. She was a true gift given to the world for such a short time, an angel in the form of a little girl. Autumn was a precious daughter, sister, and granddaughter whose memory will be forever cherished in the hearts of all who knew and loved her. She will be dearly missed.

Autumn Marie Zalewski died on April 19, 2010. Autumn’s family includes her father Ralph; siblings, Ann-Marie (Mark) Solomon, Karalelya Lemmer and Ellicienne Lemmer; grandparents, Leon and Joan Zalewski and Linda and Tom Lemmer; as well as other relatives and friends. Family and friends will gather at St. Stephen Catholic church 1441 W. Oakwood Road Oak Creek, WI from 6:00 p.m. until time of the Memorial Service at 7:00 p.m. Please visit where you can leave a favorite memory or photo, sign the online guestbook, or make a memorial contribution in Autumn’s name to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, 9000 W. Wisconsin Ave., Wauwatosa, WI 53226. Arrangements provided for by Suminski Family Funeral Homes 414-744-5156

Past Comments

Chris Boyce

It was a truly an honor to be invited to share in Autumn’s life. Initially Ralph came to visit our Pediatric Special Care program while Autumn was still in the hospital. It was so apparent how much he loved his little girl! We, too, came to love her in the short time she attended our program. She is a special child who touched the hearts of everyone. She will always be remembered as a sweet little angel who accomplished her mission on this earth at a very early age. We will miss her.


Autumn has been such a special part of the “family” here at Children’s. From her start in the NICU to moving into her new big room at the new tower. We have all learned alot in caring for her. Autumn and her family taught us resilency, patience and the challange of caring for a family not just a child. Ralph, your love for your daughter has been apparent from day one but your strength and dedication to get your baby home with you grew and was amazing. I am so proud of you and the team that worked together to make that happen, so you were able to take Autumn Marie home. The bond that you two shared was priceless. I can say it was a true pleasure to be able to work with you and take care of Autumn. She will always be remembered, her smile, her cheeks and her love for baths and snuggling on your shoulder. She will always remain in my heart. May God bless her as she is comforted in her mommy’s arms.

~Jenell RN

Joe Coppersmith

Little Autumn fought a hard battle in her struggle to get home and share her life with her Daddy. Ralph was ever the ‘peacemaker’ as he was able to quickly and quiety, with a Father’s loving touch, calm her. It was both an honor and a pleasure to have been able to share a small portion of her life on earth. To have been able to care for her, watch her become accustomed to the quiet of home and the quiet oversight of her Daddy was a blessing to me as a nurse.

Rest now, little one, for you are forever with your God. Know that you will be missed and prayed for during the time each of us has left. Rest easy Ralph. Your little one is now is God’s home, with the finest care that could ever be provided. And you too shall share in the prayers we offer for the peace in this knowledge.

Joe Coppersmith, RN

Donna Stanczak

In Nothing are we as rich as in our memories;

they are pictures painted by our hearts, and Nothing can erase them. May you find peace in all the wonderful memories you have of Autumn Marie. You are in my prayers. Donna

Leah Woldt

Pretty Girl.. that is what I always called Autumn. My son Hunter was in the hospital for 8 12 weeks with Autumn. We would walk down the halls and say hi. I would always say what a cute couple her and Hunter were. Both perfect! We are blessed to have had the opportunity to meet Autumn and to know her smile, strength, and to share that beautiful smile. God Bless and Autumn and your family will forever remain in our hearts.

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