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Happy & healthy: 3-year-old is ambassador for work of March of Dimes

SIBLEY, Iowa -- Chad and Joan Estebo wouldn't be at all surprised if their son, Evan, grew up to become a purveyor of vacuum cleaners. At the tender age of 3, Evan has a fascination with such cleaning machines, perusing and critiquing the vacuum displays in local stores, playing with his own toy version and even dragging his parents' larger model out to scour the carpet.

"I want a BIG vacuum cleaner," he states emphatically to a visitor at their rural Sibley home.

Evan's preoccupation could indeed foreshadow future employment as an inventor or salesman, but at the current time he has a different job -- that of ambassador. The Estebos are serving as the Ambassador Family for the March of Dimes WalkAmerica event May 21 in Worthington.

Evan Estebo was born Feb. 11, 2003 -- eight weeks before his due date. Due to a serious pregnancy complication -- pre-eclampsia with HELLP syndrome -- not only was the baby's life in jeopardy, but Joan's as well.

Chad, a native of Clear Lake S.D., who is employed as an agronomist at Farmer's Co-Op Society in Sibley, and Joan, a hairdresser originally from Slayton, were set up on a blind date by friends. They both laughingly recall how they met in the parking lot of Worthington's ShopKo store to go off on their first date at the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa.

"That day, I knew I was going to marry him," Joan asserted.

When they did get married and started planning their family, Joan had difficulty becoming pregnant. But their expectations were finally realized, and Joan's pregnancy initially progressed normally.

"Oh, I had some morning sickness, but I was really fine until about four months," she said.

"Wasn't it when we were home for Christmas? You started having pains, were tired out and just not feeling good," added Chad.

Joan developed premature labor pains and was hospitalized three times. Finally, her doctor at Worthington Specialty Clinics ordered complete bed rest for the duration of the pregnancy. Severe pain on her right side and under her ribs brought Joan back to the emergency room at Worthington Regional Hospital in the seventh month of pregnancy. Joan's blood pressure had skyrocketed, and the doctor immediately ordered medication to bring that under control and sent her via ambulance to Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D.

An ultrasound test showed that the baby's nutrient and blood supply were compromised, and Joan exhibited a further complication. Her blood wouldn't clot, so a C-section wasn't an option because she could bleed out. Joan had already been given drugs to help the baby's lungs developed, and more medication was administered to induce labor. Finally, her labor began to progress, and Evan -- weighing just 4 pounds, 2 ounces -- came into the world with the help of forceps.

"His heart rate was dropping very quickly," Chad recalled about the delivery. "His breathing wasn't very good -- actually, he wasn't breathing. The NICU (neonatal intensive care) folks came into the delivery room. There had to be close to 12 people in there. But everyone worked diligently to get Evan suctioned out, to get his breathing and heart going."

"After they got him suctioned and we heard him cry -- music to our ears -- they came and put him on my chest for a minute or so," added Joan.

Chad followed the team and his newborn son into the NICU, where the baby was hooked up to a respirator to help with breathing. When Chad returned to check on Joan, a further complication had developed. The placenta wouldn't deliver, so she had to be taken into surgery to have it removed. Chad remembers being torn between checking on his wife and checking on the baby.

"It was very hard to not have all three of us together," he said.

Evan would spend three days on the respirator, and due to her own complications, it was more than a day before Joan could visit her son. Her blood pressure was still elevated, and there was continued danger of excessive bleeding.

"When we saw him in the incubator and on the respirator, we realized it was critical," said Chad, although the Estebos related that the hospital staff was always upbeat about the baby's condition.

Evan also had a nasal-gastric tube down his nose, was hooked up to a sleep monitor and was jaundiced.

"There were a couple times when he turned blue," noted Joan. "He had a couple aspirations."

Evan was born on a Tuesday, and Joan was released on Friday, but it would be several weeks before their son could come home, too.

"It was hard to come home and not bring a baby home," Joan remembered. "Talk about post-partum depression."

Chad would work until late morning, when they'd head for Sioux Falls, spending time with their son throughout the evening. Although all the traveling back and forth was difficult, it was an arrangement that worked best for them.

"We wanted to be together," said Joan about her decision to not stay in Sioux Falls. "For us, it worked out pretty well."

It was a joyous day when one month and four days after his birthday, Evan Estebo made the first trip to his rural Sibley home. But his parents' anxieties were not yet over -- there were still concerns about his breathing, and Evan slept connected to a monitor. There was no longer the comfort of having medical personnel nearby, although a nurse from Osceola Community Hospital did home care visits to check on Evan's progress.

The Estebos credit their faith and support from friends, family and community with getting them through this time of crisis. People from their church -- Trinity Lutheran in Sibley -- brought in food during the difficult days of the pregnancy, and they felt the power of prayer throughout the ordeal of Evan's birth.

"If we wouldn't have had faith in the Lord, nothing would have been possible," Joan said. "When I was going through it, I just felt this power over me, that everything was going to be OK. It was unreal. It just gave me the strength to go on."

Today, Evan is an energetic, precocious little boy. He loves to run, constantly testing the endurance of lungs that were once kept pumping via respirator. While mom takes care of her clients at Country Hair Designs, Evan attends Bright Beginnings day care in Sibley. Besides his infatuation with vacuum cleaners, Evan's other favorite things are chicken, french fries, watching "Barney & Friends" and the color blue.

Evan's seemingly endless energy will be tested when the family participates in their first WalkAmerica event, going the distance around Worthington's Lake Okabena. The Estebos have taken their assignment as ambassadors seriously, setting a goal of $1,000 for themselves. They are already more than halfway there through participating in fund-raisers at Sibley's Pizza Hut, with Pampered Chef, selling candy bars and teddy bears.

"We also want to make people aware of pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome," emphasized Joan about the educational aspects of their cause. She knows all too well how dangerous those conditions can be and doesn't want anyone else to have to suffer the consequences. "I thank God every day for my family."

Registration for WalkAmerica will begin at 1 p.m. May 21 at Chautauqua Park in Worthington. The walk will commence at 2 p.m. and will begin and conclude at the park. For more information, go to

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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