Why We Give: Eric Wagner and Francie Schmuhl

Padraig “Paddy” Wagner,
Padraig “Paddy” Wagner attends a Notre Dame football game

“You’re a fighter, you’ve got Irish blood in you—you’ve got to fight.”

That’s the message that proud Notre Dame alum Francie Schmuhl remembers whispering five years ago to her newborn son, Padraig “Paddy” Wagner, while soft Irish music played in his room in the Riley Hospital for Children Newborn Intensive Care Unit. 

Her seemingly-healthy newborn ended up at Riley after becoming gravely ill, virtually overnight. She and her husband Eric Wagner had become worried about their one-week-old son’s sudden fussiness and vomiting. “I put my right hand on him and I turned to grab a diaper,” recalls Francie. “By the time I turned back around, he was cold, gray, limp—he was completely unresponsive.

Francie called 9-1-1 and Paddy was rushed to Memorial Hospital of South Bend, where doctors discovered he had a number of heart defects, most significantly, coarctation of the aorta. Emergency medication bought him enough time to be airlifted to Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, where cardiothoracic surgeon Mark Turrentine, M.D., performed a life-saving heart procedure. “Without Dr. Turrentine’s intervention, Paddy would have been gone in less than 24 hours,” explained Francie. After surgery, Paddy had trouble coming off the ventilator and stayed at Riley for 30 days. “We had such an amazing experience, from our physicians to special nurses like Kim Wright.”

Paddy went home on New Year’s Day. He started growing, and stayed so healthy that he was able to postpone open-heart surgery for his other defects until fall of 2013. Francie will never forget handing him over for surgery. “Knowing they were going in and they were going to stop my baby’s heart and fix it and restart it—it was an emotional moment for all of us.” Francie’s father, Bill Schmuhl, formerly in business in Elkhart and now a Notre Dame faculty member as well as alum, joined them in the tense waiting room that day. He was the first to visit Paddy after Dr. Turrentine completed the surgery.

This time around, nobody had to tell Paddy to fight. He woke up in Fighting Irish style, trying to pull out his own ventilator tube. “And he’s still a fighter,” says Francie of her active, energetic kindergartner today. In honor of Paddy’s fight the Schmuhl Family Fund made a generous gift in support of Dr. Turrentine’s cardiology research.  As Francie says, “We know we are given gifts that we need to pass on to others.”

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