At 7:43 a.m. Feb. 7, Ruth (Wilde) Webber gave birth to a baby boy, with more than 1,700 people waiting on Facebook postings for good news. The 2006 Luther High School graduate now lives in Mankato, Minn., but her many ties to Onalaska folks are providing a lifeline to her, her husband Paul and baby, John Wilde Webber. The family is facing a hard road ahead.
In the fourth month of her pregnancy, Ruth was overwhelmed with nausea. After talking to other mothers who went through morning sickness, she decided to call her doctor. She was almost immediately admitted to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., diagnosed with cancer that had eaten away her stomach.
Her 28-week-old baby was delivered by C-section at 2 pounds, 12.8 ounces, just 14.5 inches long. Through her short pregnancy, Ruth lost 20 pounds. She is hooked up to a machine that feeds her through the small intestine and another one pumping out her stomach.
Ruth can’t even visit with baby John. He’s in a neonatal intensive care unit at St. Marys Hospital. She can see him on video through a live camera feed, but can’t wait until she can see him in person.
With a long line of connections to Ruth and her mother and father, Lee Fehrs, an attorney in Onalaska, started a benefit fund for Ruth and her family. Ruth had stayed with Fehrs and his family while she attended Luther High School and he said they were like substitute parents for her.
“I felt so bad for the family,” he said.
The Fehrs attended Ruth and Paul’s wedding in 2010. He said he knew that Paul, as a seminary student, wasn’t financially ready for a premature baby and a wife facing massive medical bills and chemotherapy.
On Friday, Feb. 3, Fehrs announced to his family he would start a fund for Ruth. On Saturday, his daughter Laura said she would set up a website for fundraising.
By Feb. 7 when the baby was delivered, there were more than 1,700 members of the Pray for Ruth group on Facebook, waiting to learn if it was a boy or girl and to make sure baby and mom were hanging in there.
“We joked that it was the world’s largest waiting room,” Fehrs said.
By Feb. 14, $20,000 had been donated from places as distant as Germany, France and Australia.
Fehrs said as soon as he put a biblical passage on the site about Ruth in the Old Testament, donations poured in. In the Bible, Ruth and her family survive on leftovers she finds in the fields after the harvest. Fehrs asked donors to send their leftovers to help.
A local woman whose husband died recently of cancer donated a large sum. A group of women have started a breast milk donation campaign.
Fehrs knew Ruth’s father, John Wilde, from their Bethany Lutheran College days. They kept in touch after college, and Fehrs was saddened to learn in 1990 that John Wilde had died of stomach cancer.
Ruth was an infant then and she now has the same cancer that killed her father.
When she was 16, Ruth stayed with Lee, his wife, Linnette, and their four children for the 2004-2005 school year, then lived with other area families until graduating in 2006.
“When she came, she was pretty shy,” Fehrs said of Ruth as a high school student. “By the time she left, she had more friends coming over than Karla (the Fehrs’ oldest daughter).”
Fehrs said Ruth should be going home in about a week as she recovers from the C-section and gets ready to start chemotherapy treatments.
Doctors are confident of a full recovery. Doctors will tie up a section of her small intestine to make a pouch as a stomach. As far as Fehrs knows, the cancer has not spread.
Baby John’s prognosis, according to Fehrs, is excellent. Fehrs said Ruth and Paul are considering staying at the Ronald McDonald House while baby John is in the hospital.
Ruth is beginning to respond to some of the comments left on Facebook: “I am completely overwhelmed, humbled and at the same time strengthened by all of your prayers, gifts and encouragements. ... I thank God as He helps me take small steps on the path He’s laid out for me.”