STERLING – Faith and Greg Woessner are sitting at their dining room table, the sounds of their four children playing in the living room are welcome signs that, soon, things may return to normal.
Since a July 12 trip to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan City, Ind., things haven’t been normal or easy on the Woessners. That’s when 6-year-old Nathan fell into a sinkhole while climbing a dune known as Mount Baldy around 4:30 p.m. For the next 3 hours, Nathan was trapped 11 feet deep in the ground. His amazing survival has become national news.
Nathan has a follow-up appointment in Chicago, but other than that, Faith, 33, and Greg, 30, said they don’t expect there to be any recurring medical treatments. He’ll be able to start first grade at Unity Christian School in Fulton in the fall, at the same time as the rest of his new classmates.
Friday, when he was released from La Rabida Children's Hospital to return home to Sterling, he ran to the car, his parents said.
Before they left, the doctors said the best thing for Nathan’s recovery is a return to normalcy.
Normalcy, Faith and Greg said, also would be good for them and the rest of the family – Jake, 13, Olivia, 8, and Marcus, 3.
It was nice to see how quickly, after returning home, things started slow down and they started to settle in, considering what the past 2 weeks put them all through, they said.
The support from their church community, other Sauk Valley residents, their friends and family, complete strangers and “worldwide prayers” have been overwhelming and helpful, they said.
Nathan’s birthday isn’t until the end of September, but they said he’s already been flooded with birthday cards in the mail, the one thing he told Faith he wanted for his birthday before they left for the Indiana Dunes.
In the seconds, minutes and hours following Nathan falling into the sinkhole, Faith said she was crying and praying, she was “losing control” while Greg, her “rock,” was calm and focused on the spot in the sand where Nathan had disappeared, making sure that the digging efforts didn’t stray while sand flowed down the dune and people arrived to help. Help was there within 15 minutes, they said.
“Air pocket or not, when he was found, completely engulfed or submerged, straight up and down, I know that the Lord had his hand around him the entire time,” Greg said. “Whether or not there was an air pocket there, there was something.”
Nathan was taken on a stretcher via an ATV to an ambulance, which took him to St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital in Michigan City. He later was taken to University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital.
The rescue effort included Michigan City firefighters, police officers, the National Park Service, crews from NIPSCO, the local gas and electric provider, and other visitors to the dunes.
In the midst of the “well-maintained chaos,” as Greg describes it, one man’s efforts stood out to them.
They had never met him before, may never meet him again and didn’t know his name. They referred to him as only the “man in the red, white and blue shorts.” But he stood out to Greg and Faith, who will likely never forget the efforts he made to save their child.
He isn’t the only one who has earned a special place in the Woessners’ hearts.
“I can’t give enough credit and gratitude to all the people that were there,” Greg said.
It’s hard for Faith and Greg to look back on the past 2 weeks and not see God’s presence, and not see it in the impact that has gone beyond their family.
“The man that ran the excavator that was digging, he went to church that night and got baptized,” Faith said. “After he rescued Nathan he went to church that night and got baptized. And we were just like, ‘Wow.’”
When they arrived at St. Anthony's in Michigan City, Faith and Greg said they still didn’t know if Nathan had survived.
“They had us in a waiting room or a conference room when they first brought him to the hospital. They didn’t let us see him,” Faith said. “A paramedic came in, and we didn’t know if he was alive or not. And I was just waiting to hear something. And he said, ‘He’s alive, something something something something.’”
Faith and Greg said after they heard those first two words they didn’t hear anything else the paramedic said. They didn’t need to.
Faith and Greg are fully aware of the countless people who played a role in Nathan’s rescue and recovery. Faith said she even tried to count them at one point.
One day while they were at Comer Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Faith tried to count the doctors who passed through Nathan’s room to check on him. She said she lost count at 35, and that was just doctors, not to mention nurses and other hospital staff.
After Comer's, Nathan went to La Rabida Children's Hospital. Doctors said he had issues with balance, gait and memory, and he underwent physical, occupational and speech therapy.
From the strangers on Mount Baldy digging with snow shovels from their cars, to police and firefighters and construction workers digging with equipment, to the paramedics and nurses and doctors at two hospitals, Faith and Greg said they believe God placed the right people, some of the “smartest doctors in the world,” right where they needed to be to save Nathan.
“We fully believe that this is God’s miracle,” Faith said. “It’s not anybody’s miracle but God’s miracle, and we want him to get the full credit for what he did.”
A variety of efforts are underway to help the Woessner family:
– The Michigan City firefighters who rescued Nathan have set up “The Mount Baldy Miracle” fund through the Unity Foundation of La Porte County, which enables people from anywhere to donate money at uflc.net/funds/the-mount-baldy-miracle/. Donation will help to offset medical expenses.
– People also may send checks to Unity Foundation of La Porte County, P.O. Box 527, Michigan City, IN 46361.
– Rock River Christian Center in Rock Falls, where the Woessners attend church, is accepting donations, both in general and for an upcoming benefit that will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Aug. 31 at the church, 1800 Prophetstown Road.
The church is also collecting cards and notes showing support for Nathan and his family.
Those who wish to make donations, monetary or otherwise, can call the church at 815-625-4371.