OPINION

Schaeffer: A letter of thanks to Primary Children’s Hospital

Oct 19, 2023, 2:23 PM | Updated: Oct 20, 2023, 8:57 am

Image of Gavin Zachary Valdez was born at Primary Children's Hospital on June 11, 2007. He died not...

Gavin Zachary Valdez was born at Primary Children's Hospital on June 11, 2007. (Amie Schaeffer)

(Amie Schaeffer)

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom. 

SALT LAKE CITY — This is the second year that I have worked for KSL NewsRadio during the KSL Give-A-Thon benefitting Primary Children’s Hospital.

As a parent, I feel lucky to have a top-ranked children’s hospital in my city. 

There are so many heart-warming stories about kids who have faced medical hardships and triumphed with the help of the amazing staff and technologies the hospital affords. 

But, what about the stories that do not have a happy ending?

Our ‘kung-fu’ fighter

My nephew, Gavin Zachary Valdez came into this world about eight weeks early in the summer of 2007. He weighed 1 pound 9 ounces, was 12 inches long and he was a force in this world. 

Toni Valdez Bringhurst holding her new son at Primary Children’s Hospital.

I remember looking at him in his incubator in amazement as he kicked his little legs and flailed his arms. My little sister Toni’s face would light up. She dubbed him her “kung-fu fighter” and the moniker stuck. 

As my sister’s nurses came in, she would praise them for their care. They were kind, non-intrusive, and supportive. 

They worried with her, celebrated mile markers no matter how small with her, and cheered on her son. 

Our family was no stranger to tiny, preemie babies. My older sister, Brandy had triplets in 2005. One of her boys weighed less than Gavin. The triplets and their parents had been through a lot. But, they had pulled through. Why should Gavin’s story be different?

Gavin the fighter; the teacher

After 27 days of fighting valiantly, Gavin was gone.

I won’t go into all of the details of what went wrong. I don’t know them all. But I can tell you what I observed outside of my sister’s bubble of grief and anger and love. 

The nurses gave Toni the space to fall apart. And they held her hand while she did so. 

My sister knew the fight was over and she bravely made the decision to let him go. I remember thinking her capacity for love was deeper than I knew could exist. 

The hospital made sure we had a comfortable space to say goodbye. They gave us time. My sister, my parents, and Gavin’s siblings held him and read to him. We spoke soft I love yous and goodbyes.

Gavin’s breathing tubes were removed. Toni held him and smiled at him and just loved him. And they were beautiful.

The ability to say goodbye in that way is such a gift. I am grateful to Primary Children’s for those moments. I know Toni is too. 

Saying goodbye

Planning a funeral for an infant is a task I would wish on no one, especially a mother. Admittedly, much of it is a jumble of blurred images in my mind. 

At the service, I saw my sister’s nurses sitting towards the back, still lending support. 

And then, they both stood up and walked to the front of the room. Through tears, they spoke of caring for Gavin and Toni. Their words were genuine.

And to this day I think of them. How vital their role is to the kids they care for, but also to the families. The mothers. My sister.

It must be incredibly hard.

Celebrating Primary Children’s Hospital in triumph and success can be easy. It is wonderful when a child gets better and can go home. 

But, the support given when tragedy strikes is just as important. Perhaps, more so.

So, this is a letter of thanks. Thank you for the care you gave my nephew and my sister. It has been 16 years, and my family has never forgotten.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

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Schaeffer: A letter of thanks to Primary Children’s Hospital