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Fargo couple starts charity to buy hospital furniture for weary parents

Evan Schumacher, 4, died after being hospitalized for an infection. Now his parents are trying to keep his legacy alive by making waiting rooms more comfortable for other parents. Special to The Forum

WAHPETON, N.D. – As Stuart Schumacher sat by his 4-year-old son in the hospital day after day, searching for some sign that Evan would come back, he knew his fatigue was getting worse.

“You’re so stressed out, you don’t know what you’re doing,” he said. “You’re walking around like a zombie because you just can’t sleep.”

Stuart and Melissa Schumacher of Wahpeton knew they could have ditched the tiny fold-out cot near their son’s bed in intensive care.

But the young parents had been there three days before, when Evan’s heart suddenly stopped beating – and stayed that way for a full 20 minutes – in a complication from croup that was as rare as it was terrifying.

So there was no way they were leaving their son, not even for the night.

Evan was hospitalized Feb. 5 after scabs and bacteria lurking in his throat burst free during a coughing fit, blocking his airways and stopping his heart.

By Feb. 8 after a constant vigil, it had reached the point where hospital nurses were worried Schumacher would be so tired he’d have a hard time making decisions for his son.

And as the time for the final decision neared and the MRIs on Evan’s brain weren’t telling them anything new – “There just wasn’t anything there,” Schumacher said – he and Melissa started to build a plan to make Evan’s legacy a meaningful one.

“They decided they didn’t want any other family … to have to feel guilty about having to leave the hospital,” said Amy Warnke, development director for the North Dakota Community Foundation. The mission of the foundation, based in Bismarck, is to improve the quality of life for North Dakota residents through charitable giving and promoting philanthropy.

The Schumachers created a charity to develop and buy hospital furniture – with a bed that folds out of a couch, for example – so parents who are waiting with a sick child can get some rest.

“We thought, if we can give somebody 15 minutes of sleep,” Schumacher said. “It’s that little bit of comfort. Hopefully you never even notice it.”

Warnke said by the time the Schumachers approached her about establishing a charity in Evan’s memory within a week of his death on Feb. 8, they had already done research to find out if they were duplicating the work of another existing charity.

Warnke said as far as hospital officials know, not only are there no hospital furniture charities in the region, there may not even be any in the nation.

“They are absolutely the most motivated organizers I’ve ever seen,” Warnke said. “This is really pretty unique.”

The nonprofit foundation also provides help for families who are writing an obituary for a loved one who has died before turning 18, and hopes to help defray the cost of those obituaries.

Schumacher said he and his wife were lucky to have the support of great friends and family during Evan’s time in the hospital.

But having the support of bed springs under them could make a significant difference to a parent suffering sleepless nights next to a sick child, he said.

“As a parent, you’re so exhausted,” he said. “This is kind of one of those simple things you can do.”

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