For the Memory of Two Little Souls
Faribault Daily News
By Pauline Schreiber
December 16, 2006

Two Faribault couples could think of no better way to remember their infant sons who died three years ago than a toy collection drive for the Child Life Program.

"I'm pretty sure there are over 100 toys here right now," Jim Donahue, one of many family members who operates Faribault's Donahue's Greenhouse, said Friday.

Jim and his wife, Jessie, lost their fourth child, infant son, Kilian, on Christmas Day 2003. He was just 3 days old, born on Dec. 22 of that year. Leif and Natalie Crooks' 17-month old son died of cancer in January 2004. Both families were helped by the Child Life Program at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester after their painful losses.

The Donahues had taken home what appeared to be a normal and healthy baby the evening of Dec. 23. But by early morning on Dec. 24, Kilian's breathing was raspy and they took him to the District One Hospital emergency room. From there, the tiny baby was rushed to St. Marys Hospital in Rochester.

"What the Child Life Program did was provide gifts to our other three children, who spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with us, at St. Marys as we waited to see if doctors could help Kilian," Jessie Donahue said.

The infant was diagnosed with a very rare condition, undetectable at birth, in which the liver cannot process ammonia. Doctors could do nothing to treat the condition, and the baby died. Jim and Jesse never forgot how the Child Life Program helped make that painful day just a bit brighter when Santa gave toys to their three older children - Gracie, 7; Tiernan, 6; and Delaney, 4.

"Last year we did a toy drive for the Child Life Program, just through family members. This year we've solicited toys from the community and had a drop-off site at the greenhouse," Jessie Donahue said.

People can still donate toys for the Child Life Program, she said, by dropping them at the greenhouse by 5 p.m. Sunday.

"Jim and I, and Natalie and Leif Crooks, will be taking them down to St. Marys on Monday," Jessie Donahue said. "The Crooks helped us with the toy collection drive this year, getting their family and friends to donate toys."

Friday, Natalie and Leif Crooks had their 15-month old daughter, Emma, with them as they looked over the toys collected so far.

Tears welled in Natalie's eyes when she talked about how her 17-month old son, Preston, died of a brain tumor. He was in St. Marys for a month, including Christmas and New Year's Day in 2003, during the same holiday in which the Donahues suffered the loss of their son, Kilian.

"We learned later, when we both began volunteering for IRIS (Infants Remembered in Silence), that we were both at St. Marys that same Christmas," Natalie Crooks said.

Preston had just started walking and talking, when just a few weeks before Christmas 2003, he started throwing up and couldn't stop. They took him to a doctor, and it turned out he had a brain tumor. Doctors removed the tumor, but the cancer had spread to his spine. The toddler died in January after approximately a month at St. Marys.

"Being in the hospital at Christmas is the last place a child wants to be. The Child Life Program helps make it a bit better for sick children and the siblings who find themselves visiting the hospital over Christmas, by giving them gifts," Natalie Crooks said.

Preston was too sick to leave his room on Christmas 2003, so his parents went to the Child Life Program's Christmas party and brought his toys back to him.

"He loved Elmo, and he got an Elmo doll as one of his gifts. Leif and I were very touched by that, and so we wanted to do what we can to give back to a program that helped us at a painful time, just like the Donahues," Natalie Crooks said.