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 www.lifestorynet.com 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 www.lifestorynet.com