Their story is our story.
The Vendevert family’s connection to St. Charles Health System runs deep—Dr. J.C. Vandevert started practicing medicine in Bend in 1915 and continued until 1967.
Like any doctor’s family that lives for generations in one town, they eventually saw the hospital from both sides of the stethoscope. So it was with the Vandverts. In 1948, one of Dr. Vandevert’s granddaughters was born prematurely in the old red brick building on Hospital Hill.
Years later, Joyce Vendevert, daughter-in-law of J.C. Vandevert, wrote the story of her daughter in flowing longhand and titled it “Our Gift from God.”
In September 1948, Joyce went to the hospital just over six months into a pregnancy that had been plagued with complications. She gave birth to Jill Renee. The baby girl weighed only 2 pounds, 14 ounces and measured just 15 inches.
“Her tiny foot fit on Jack’s thumbnail,” Vandevert wrote, referring to the girl’s father and her late husband. “Dr. (John) Dorsch and Dr. Vandevert were very skeptical about Jill living.”
Premature babies of that size were difficult to care for under the best of circumstances. Fortunately for the Vandeverts, two events had converged just before their daughter’s birth that gave the girl a fighting chance.
Shortly before the girl’s birth, the Bend Eagles Club had donated a baby incubator to the hospital. In addition, one of the nuns, Sister Rita Marie, had just returned from the East, where she had undergone training in the care of premature infants.
“We were very lucky as Jill was placed in the incubator right after her birth and put on oxygen so she could breathe,” Vandevert wrote.
Yet an incubator and current medical care were no guarantee. The child began to founder because she couldn’t eat. Vandevert wrote that esophageal tubes weren’t in use in such cases yet.
Rather, the baby was fed intravenously. As a consequence, the child suffered abscesses on her arms, legs and back from the needles.
“For 21 days, it was touch and go. She dropped down in weight to one and [Missing copy] pounds—and they, the doctors, felt little hope for her survival,” Vandevert wrote.
“One of the sisters planned and asked to perform the last rites from the Catholic Church, which was done. The 22nd day Jill seemed better. Sister Rita Marie was feeding her with an eye dropper…honey and water, plus they also tried mothers’ breast milk, which seemed to be working, and she began on the uphill swing.”
Slowly, the tiny baby made progress. Eventually she was able to start feeding from a small nipple. Still, nothing was easy for Jill or her caregivers who worked around the clock to take care of her.
“It would take an hour to feed her just ounces of milk, and they fed her every three hours for 24 hours.”
Jack, Joyce and Jill’s 4-year-old brother, Michael, visited twice a day. Several weeks before they expected to release Jill, Joyce would go to the hospital to feed and hold her baby, but the child couldn’t come home until she weighed five pounds.
“In those days, children were not allowed upstairs, so of course her brother, Mike, could not visit with her. But the sisters in the hospital would take care of Mike and talk to him about his baby sister,” she wrote.
Finally, in December, Jill had reached five pounds and had gained enough strength to go home with her parents and big brother. The round-the-clock feedings at three-hour intervals continued for some months.
“Thank God for her each day, and (we) appreciated so much the St. Charles staff and doctors for all the help they gave us.”
It was an emotional thing for the whole family, especially old Dr. Vandevert.
“Her grandfather, Dr. J.C. Vandevert, was so happy and grateful that his granddaughter made it, as were all our families and friends,” Joyce wrote.