Two families, one heart: How the tragic death of a baby in Racine saved another’s life in Kansas | Local News

Two babies were born in 2018. Arkaydin Howard of Racine, Wisconsin. Peter Hernandez in Silica, Kansas. Little known to both families, their stories will soon be deeply intertwined.

Christopher and Erin Hernandez welcomed their third child, Peter, who was born on August 18, 2018. The boy looks healthy. But his heart is not working properly.

Christopher said: ‘It was a nurse who discovered he had a heart murmur. “With that scan, they knew immediately that something had happened, and we didn’t really have a lot of details at the time.”

However, the hospital they were in didn’t have the equipment needed to do more for Peter. After being taken to Children’s Hospital of Kansas City, the family was informed that Peter had a congenital heart defect: coarctation of the aorta.

At less than two weeks old, Peter will undergo his first surgery to repair his tiny heart. While the surgery was initially deemed a success, Peter contracted a staph infection that would destroy the repair process.

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After open-heart surgery at just 4 weeks old, Peter was getting better, but he wasn’t.

“On the day we thought we were leaving the PICU (children’s intensive care unit), he went into cardiac arrest instead and ended up on life support,” Erin said.

In November 2018, Peter was on the transplant list.

Brittney Struebing and Arkaydin 3

Brittney Struebing hugs her son Arkaydin Howard.


‘He’s such a good boy’

That same month, Arkaydin Howard was born on November 4, but his time was running out. Arkaydin’s mother, Brittney Struebing, said that when he was with her, he was a very happy child.

“He’s such a good boy,” Struebing said last November. “He’s so cute, literally perfect.”

At just 3 months old, in February 2019, Arkaydin died while his father was believed to be taking care of him. jury found his father guilty of a second degree reckless murder in November 2020; he was accused of shaking the baby. He is due to be sentenced on friday.

Struebing, a young man, was faced with an almost impossible choice after losing his son: whether to donate his young son’s organs or not. In the end, Struebing decided to donate Arkaydin’s heart in the hope of being able to help someone else’s baby.

His heart will answer the prayers of the Hernandez family. Christopher and Erin called it bittersweet.

“Literally you’re praying for another child not to have it and, so it feels like – you don’t – but it feels like that because the greatest hope in our lives at the time. also means someone else’s worst day of their life,” says Erin.


The Hernandez family, from left to right: Peter, Christopher, Erin, Aurora and Michael


His heart beats

Arkaydin’s heart beats today. Peter received Arkaydin’s heart four months after being on the transplant list, during which time the Hernandez family essentially became two units. Erin stayed in Kansas City with Peter at the hospital while Christopher, with the help of family and community, cared for the couple’s other two children, Aurora and Michael.

Peter’s parents expressed gratitude to their “wonderful” community for helping out while the family worked to bring Peter home, which they did when he was almost nine months old. But for Christopher, the best thing is his wife. He joked that she might go back to nursing school after learning so much from her experience taking care of Peter.

“Erin did a lot of work with him, because when you’re the Mother of Hearts, I think you’re the Mother of the Heart,” Christopher said. “Heart Mom” ​​refers to parents whose children have heart disease.

Although the family contacted Struebing via mail and phone call, they first met via Zoom on Tuesday. Christopher and Erin explain to their kids, now aged 3, 7, and 10, that Struebing is the “Mother of the Heart,” as they call her in their home.

Peter, like any 3-year-old, is playing with Toy “Paw Patrol” when wearing pajamas for the lover of “Paw Patrol”, which he quickly showed off to Struebing.

“Thank you for my heart,” Peter told Struebing.


Peter Hernandez, living well on the donor heart of Arkaydin Howard of Racine, smiled here as a 3-year-old.


Nice to meet them

Struebing said she was delighted to meet her family and see that Peter was “very strong”. Erin and Christopher, who say that Struebing is now part of their family, are trying to find a way for her to listen to Arkaydin’s heart again and also make plans for her to visit them.

“Thank you for keeping it (Arkaydin’s heart) strong and moving on, so thank you too,” Struebing told Peter.

After undergoing physical, occupational, and speech therapy, Peter lived like most 3-year-olds, playing and causing mayhem for his siblings. For Christopher and Erin, hearing their other kids complain about Peter is actually a good thing, since it’s “normal”.

By sharing their story, the Hernandez family said, they hope to raise awareness for the Racine community to heal from the tragedy of Arkaydin’s death and of Struebing’s plight.

A grieving mother recognizes a stranger on TV as the man who took her son’s heart and runs to him to feel his heartbeat – they now treat each other like family and talk every day. day. Valerie Stebel, 45, lost her son, Cody, 20, to severe injuries he sustained in a car crash just months after he took his driving test in May/ 2017.


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