Shera and Sonny Herman, Gardner, hope to find ways to memorialize their daughter Madeline.In the meantime, the news that she’s gone is just now trickling out to Madeline’s classmates.
Madeline died just six days after school let out last year, and many of her classmates who are now in the third grade at Moonlight Elementary School, are just learning of her passing for the first time.
“I had two little boys come up to my house about two weeks ago who went to school with Madeline,” Shera said. “They came into the yard and they said, are you Madeline’s mom? They said kids at school are asking what happened to Madeline. It broke my heart how much courage it took for these little boys — third graders — to come up to our house and ask about her.”
It’s frustrating, Shera explained, because had Madeline died while school was in session, the district would have provided counselors and explained the situation to students.
What happened to Madeline isn’t the easiest story for Shera to tell.
Madeline was where she wanted to be, Shera said, when she had a seizure during Memorial Day weekend on May 31.
The happy second grader was diagnosed with a seizure disorder several years ago, but by last spring, she hadn’t had a seizure for more than two years.
“She had been bugging me to go spend the night with my mom and sister,” Shera said.
During Memorial Day weekend, the entire family went to the cemetery to visit the grave of Madeline’s grandfather and stopped to play at a park in Paola. It was there that Shera asked Madeline if she’d like to go home or stay a little longer with her aunt and grandmother. Madeline chose to go to her grandmother’s house in Gardner instead.
The next day, Shera called and tried to coax Madeline into coming home for dinner. Shera made spaghetti and brownies.
“Madeline loved food, especially sweets like brownies,” Shera explained.
But Madeline chose to stay at grandma’s for dinner. Afterwards, Shera would pick her up and bring her home.
Instead as Shera sat down at the table, she got a phone call that would change her life. It was her sister on the other line saying, come quickly, Madeline has had a seizure.
Shera and Sonny discussed what they were going to do as they drove across town. This wasn’t Madeline’s first seizure and family members had been assigned certain roles to help when Madeline had a seizure. The big question was, would they need to call police or an ambulance this time.
The question was answered for them as they pulled into the driveway and the fire chief’s SUV pulled in behind them.
“I just jumped out and ran into the house,” Shera said. “I could tell she wasn’t breathing. She was kind of purple.”
The EMTs arrived and started CPR.
When they arrived at Olathe Medical Center, Shera learned that Madeline wasn’t alive when she left Gardner. But, EMTs revived her on the way to the hospital. They decided to take Madeline on to Children’s Mercy Hospital.
“She was critical,” Shera said. “At that time, she had just a heartbeat and a pulse. She wasn’t breathing on her own.”
Doctors at Children’s Mercy did not have good news for the family.
“When we finally saw Madeline, they said she had been without oxygen for too long. They said her brain and her lungs were too damaged,” Shera said.
The family had a decision to make.
“When we talked to my son and our daughter, I told them this was really God’s plan,” Shera said. “He gave us a decision. Just because something tragic happened to us, that doesn’t mean we couldn’t help other people. We were able to let Madeline be an organ donor. From our tragedy, other people’s lives were saved.”
One kidney went to an 8-year-old boy. Another went to a mother of three. Madeline’s corneas were donated to a 3-year-old boy and a man who is 46, Shera said. Madeline’s heart valves were taken to be used later and her liver was taken for research.
“So many people were affected by her in just that one act,” Shera said. “We’re just happy we could do that.”
But, Shera said, she’d like to be able to do more to help people in Madeline’s memory. She and Sonny are in the process of forming “Madeline’s Gifts” a non-profit foundation that Shera hopes will benefit many.
“Our first obligation with the funds we raise will be to make a donation to the Gardner Special Olympics,” Shera said.
Madeline was a member of the Gardner Gold Special Olympics team. She played soccer and softball, but her first love was cheerleading.
“She was so gung-ho. It was just amazing that she got to do these things that other kids got to do in her own way,” Shera said.
Shera and the Herman family will sponsor a chili luncheon from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 9 at Evergreen Events, 15 West Wea, in Paola. Award-winning chili with all the fixings will be $5 for all-you-can eat or $3 per bowl.
The Hermans also hope to host many of Madeline’s friends at a Daddy-Daughter dance that same evening. The dance will run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Oct. 9 at Evergreen Events. For more information, call Sher at [email protected]
Family plans to memorialize Moonlight student who died last spring