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March 1, 2009

Atreyu's Neverending Story

Sheboygan, Wis. --Like any new parents, Jessica and Patrick Burke were excited about the birth of their first child. They found out that they were having a baby boy and started thinking about names for their son.

As a child, Jess loved to read and decided that she was going to name her son Atreyu Vrai Burke. The name Atreyu came from one of the main characters in the book, The Neverending Story. Like the character of the book, Jess wanted her son to be a hero and to have his own story one day. The pursuit of truth has always played an important role in Jess' life and she chose Atreyu's middle name, Vrai, because it is the French word for "true".

Atreyu Vrai Burke was on born on February 16, 2008. Jess and Pat were overcome with joy with the birth of their son but it quickly turned into despair and fear when the doctors told them something was wrong with Atreyu's heart.

"The doctors wanted us to go to Milwaukee to make sure he was going to be okay," Pat said.

Once they were at the hospital in Milwaukee, an echocardiogram was performed and they soon found out that he had a mild condition called pulmonary valve stenosis. Jess and Pat were advised that Atreyu would eventually either grow out of the condition or he would need a catheter operation when he was older. Jess and Pat's minds were at ease--their son was going to be okay.

They then headed back to Sheboygan and stopped by Jess'' mother's house to show off the new baby. A few hours later they went home. Jess and Pat put Atreyu down for a little bit and headed into the kitchen. When they came back to the room they noticed that Atreyu was no longer breathing. Pat started doing CPR on Atreyu and they called 911 for help.

Exactly four days to the minute after Atreyu was born, he died in his mother's arms.

In Sheboygan County, more than 400 babies die each year, mainly through miscarriage. In keeping with the St. Nicholas Hospital 's healing ministry and embracing the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services, the Hospital recognized the need to provide support for those who have experienced a pregnancy or newborn loss. The Hospital broadened its Hope After Loss Organization (HALO ) program and extended it to the entire community regardless of when or where the death occurred.

Jess was referred to a HALO bereavement counselor. Counseling services are provided as a courtesy to anyone experiencing pregnancy loss or early newborn death.

Jess was understandably devastated at the loss of their baby. A very shy person and not always very comfortable talking face to face, Jess was relieved to know she could use e-mail and the telephone as a means of communicating her thoughts and feelings after her initial meeting with the bereavement counselor.

After a few months, Jess started attending the HALO monthly support group meetings along with her mother, Laura. She found the HALO supportive services to be helpful and encouraging even in the midst of overwhelming despair in the face of Atreyu's death.

Jessica learned to accept Atreyu's death and started thinking about what elements could possibly be changed for the better for someone else who may be going through a similar experience.

For Jess, she had so longed to pass on her passion of reading to her little boy. The foremost regret she had about the whole experience in the hospital was not being able to find a decent book to read to him. For Pat and herself, a child's book, may have helped lend a sense of control over the circumstances, it may have been comforting to Atreyu as well as Jess and Pat to hear the sound of their voices reading a story about an adventure far removed from the present crisis.

Patrick Burke holding his newborn daughter.Pat came up with the idea to gather children's books and to distribute them to various hospitals. Jess and Pat searched on Craig's List, went to garage sales and thrift stores for books, and Jess' mother, Laura, was also able to get gently used "discards" from the library. With the help of friends, family, and strangers, Jess and Pat soon collected more than 300 books.

There is a sticker in every book indicating "This gift has been given in loving memory of Atreyu Vrai Burke."

Atreyu's tiny body may have passed on last February, but his spirit is alive and well and lives on in his family's heart. They wanted him to be a hero, to have his own story. Through the gift of these books which have been distributed to Emergency Departments and Neonatal/Pediatric Intensive Care Units, his story does go on.

Atreyu's Legacy in the giving of these books is part of a never ending story, touching lives far beyond his own. A story that might make the difference between despair and hope that the illness and/or death of a baby does not have to be in vain, but purpose and hope can be found even in the midst of tragic loss.

If you are interested in donating children's books to Atreyu's Neverending Story, please call 920/457-5770.

About St. Nicholas Hospital
St. Nicholas Hospital is a non-profit hospital sponsored by the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis located at 3100 Superior Avenue, Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Their mission and vision is to provide family-centered, compassionate care without regard for race, creed, or ability to pay. This is achieved through the core values of respect, care, competence, and joy.

To learn more, visit .

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St. Nicholas Hospital
3100 Superior Avenue
Sheboygan , WI 53081


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St. Nicholas HospitSt. Nicholas Hospital, 3100 Superior Avenue, Sheboygan, WI Ph:920-459-8300
 100 Superior Avenue
 Sheboygan, WI 53081