Cori Salchert and her family began caring for children with life-limiting or terminal diagnoses in 2012. Salchert and her family, who have been featured by Kathie Lee & Hoda and on TODAY.com, brought Charlie into their home when he was an infant. He has since celebrated three birthdays and officially became part of the Salchert family through adoption. Charlie also has become part of the greater Sheboygan, Wisconsin community. Here, Salchert explains how:
Taking a baby to a well-child checkup at Dr. T’s office (our pediatrician) was a familiar adventure for Charlie and me. Dr. T remembered when I had brought Emmalynn (the first terminally ill baby we cared for) to see him in the office. The nurse that August day asked me to get her undressed, weighed her, and told me Dr. T was supposed to be right in to examine Emmalynn. He got delayed and took longer than expected. I let Emmalynn lie there on the examining table only a minute or two, and then, because I didn’t want to redress her, I pulled up my T-shirt and tucked her in against my tummy, leaving only her little head exposed in the crook of my arm. I was swaying back and forth humming when Dr. T came in and saw us. He shook his head and said, “You’ve gotten attached haven’t you?” All I could say very quietly was, “That ship sailed for sure,” meaning I had indeed fallen in love with that sweet baby. My instinct to keep her warm and protected was in full mama-bear mode. I hadn’t given birth to Emmalynn, but I loved her as if I had.
Dr. T with our Charlie.
When I held Charlie so Dr. T could examine him, he saw I had once again fallen head over heels in love with a baby destined to eventually break my heart.
“You’re nuts! You know that?” he said.
“Yep, probably, but I can’t stand the thought of this kiddo dying in the hospital alone without a family. I’m not expecting you to cure him or fix him. I just need a right-hand man up here in Sheboygan, and you’re it!”
Other health care workers have also supported us in caring for Charlie. One of the most encouraging things a hospital nurse said to me was this: “You know, we can tell when kiddos are cared for and when they are neglected. The parents say they are doing things for their baby, and because the kids can’t tell us any differently, the parents think we don’t know what’s really going on. Charlie is obviously loved, and you’re doing a great job of meeting his physical needs.” Those words affirmed our actions of holding him, bathing him, applying lotion, and massaging his little body. His skin was in excellent shape as a result. His ability to relax was testimony to the fact he trusted us and was pain-free. In the day-to-day business of caring for his needs, those small, loving actions can look inconsequential. What a sweet thing to find out all that mundane stuff added up and made his existence not only bearable but also enjoyable.
Our family had come to appreciate the paramedics and firemen who had raced to our home to help us time and again during the past year. I was then struck by the fact that we had called our local EMS more than 20 times through the years. They had responded, done a wonderful service, and the most I had done for them was bellyache over the bill I received in the mail.
What a sad commentary.
I was determined this would change. The men and women both deserved and should be shown our gratitude for their selfless service on our behalf. So we made 20 dozen oatmeal-raisin cookies and invited both the Orange Cross and the Sheboygan Fire Department to our home to have the treats and take a large tray of them back to the station for those who couldn’t come. Most importantly, this allowed us to personally say a huge thank you for all they had done.
Both emergency services departments were more than happy to accommodate our request. They don’t always get to go to people’s homes for non-emergency reasons. This was a sweet reason to show up at our door. The Sheboygan Fire Department was so moved by our gesture that they asked us to bring Charlie to the fire station, which was 10 blocks away and housed the ambulance crew who most frequently responded to our calls. About 15 of the guys gathered, and these kind men made Charlie an official honorary firefighter with a brief ceremony. They gave him a fleece blanket with a fire-engine pattern and tied edges. They also gave him a onesie with the company logo. Making him their “little brother” was a heartfelt gift on their part. They have continued with this allegiance to him even though they have had to transport him only a couple of times in the two years following his near-fatal coding.
Foster kids want to feel as if they belong and are part of the community, putting down roots in the home or city where they live.
We are so thankful and touched by the way the greater Sheboygan community has reached out and embraced Charlie as one of their own.
The above excerpt from "I Will Love You Forever" has been adapted and is being reprinted with permission of Shiloh Run Press.