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Boy was in a fight for his life from the very beginning

The Packard family, from left to right Nicole, Ronan, Nadira, Erik and Wolfgang, has had a rough year. Their son Ronan was born with a hole in his diaphragm requiring surgery at just a few days old. The family has recieved a huge outpouring of support from community though.

It's hard to imagine anything could be considered worse than the horrors of war. But for Erik Parkard watching his newborn son, Ronan, fight for his life trumped what he experienced during two tours in Iraq.

Erik and his wife, Nicole, are the proud parents of 5-year-old Nadira and twin 7-month old boys Ronan and Wolfgang.

The twins were born Nov. 15, 2010 via emergency c-section because doctors determined that Wolfgang was in distress.

Wolfgang came out first, crying. Ronan came second. There were no cries. Erik said they knew immediately there was something wrong with Ronan because he was blue and limp. Doctors immediately went to work trying to resuscitate the five-pound baby boy.

Doctors incubated to assist his breathing but it didn't seem to help, so doctors took a chest x-ray. The x-ray showed a diaphragmatic hernia on the right side. Ronan's intestines and liver filled his chest cavity crowding his heart and lungs.

At barely a few hours old, Ronan was rushed to Children's Hospital in Minneapolis to undergo more dramatic efforts to save his life. Nicole and Erik were told their son may not survive.

Erik went with Ronan to Minneapolis. Nicole had to sit helplessly in St. Paul and await word on his condition. The first glimpse she got of her son was a picture of him hooked up to the machines that were keeping him alive.

At Children's in Minneapolis Ronan was hooked up to a device called an ECMO. The machine oxygenates, blood doing the work of the heart and lungs.

Just on the cusp of the limits for surgery, one week after he was born Ronan underwent a three-hour surgery to fix the hole in his diaphragm.

Erik said the doctor didn't sugar coat the risks. There was a very real chance that Ronan would not survive the surgery.

"He was one of the sickest kids in Minnesota," said Erik.

During the surgery doctors sewed a Gore-Tex patch into his diaphragm. His organs, including his heart, liver and intestines, were all moved into the proper places. A week later he was removed from the ECMO.

Day by day Ronan grew stronger and at the end of February he finally got to go home. However, having to limit his exposure to disease the family basically had to live like shut-ins for several months. That meant Nadira couldn't touch her little brother and it meant no play dates.

"It's been a struggle for all of us," said Erik.

Now a smiley 7-month old, Ronan still faces challenges. Developmentally he's behind his brother and other babies his age. Doctors hope as his health continues to improve he will catch up. He's small, and doctors worry about his weight. There are also risks that the patch could rip and everything could move again.

Despite it all the family is cautiously optimistic that a dark period of their lives is coming to an end.

While they've been through the wringer, the family has also experienced kindness at a level they never expected. Throughout the ordeal, neither Nicole nor Erik could work.

Complete strangers have offered up support to help get the family through this time.

Erik said members of Lighthouse Christian Church provided the family with dinners for three months, gift cards for gas and groceries and financial support that help the family pay their mortgage. Members of the Rosemount VFW have helped provide support as well. Erik said their family, especially his mother, has also been a rock of support through it all.

"The outpour of support has been huge," said Erik.

While it's been hard to accept all the help, Erik said it has gotten their family through emotionally and financially.

"I really don't know where we'd be without it," said Erik.

The experience has been life changing in more ways than the obvious. Erik, who has worked in law enforcement for years, decided to become a nurse and has gone back to school.

The experience has drawn the family closer together and solidified their faith.

Several events have been scheduled to further help the family. Rollin for Ronan will be held at the Apple Place Bowl July 16 from 3 to 6 p.m. On July 30 a group will sell hot dogs, brats, pop and water during the Leprechaun Days Parade at 3335 145th St. W. And on Aug. 27 the Rosemount VFW will host an Italian Dinner and bake sale from 4 to 7 p.m.

For more information visit or contact Sherrie Groff at 651-454-8892 or Sherri DeBettignies at 651-423-4218.

Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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