Cultivating a Family With Gratitude

“If we would have had an opportunity to look into the future fifteen years ago, we might be shocked at what our lives look like today. The hustle and bustle of raising four kids and working together in our own business is not exactly what we planned.” 

“I definitely never planned on being a stay-at-home full time dad for seven years.” 

“And I never planned on being the sole provider for our family, or owning my own practice.” 

Yet, here we are loving every moment of this life. 

Chris and Julie’s story starts off like any other young romance. They met in high school, both Heelan grads, and became engaged when they were attending Briar Cliff. Shortly after, they married at Blessed Sacrament Church in 2003. After the wedding, the couple moved to Iowa City so Julie could attend dental school. Chris worked in an accounting firm in Iowa City while Julie attended school. Julie was incredibly committed to her dental education and she was often at the library or the lab.  

It was your typical young love start. They were enjoying life in Iowa City, managing to have some fun in between their hard work. Even early on in their marriage, they knew the value of a strong work ethic. They were eager to start a family but knew it would be best to wait until Julie was nearly done with school. 

Jack was born on August 25th, 2007.  The couple was overjoyed at the blessing of their perfectly healthy and beautiful son.  “I was able to enjoy a short maternity leave from dental school and felt secure knowing we found a safe and wonderful day care situation for our baby. A friend and neighbor was a-stay-at-home-mom in our neighborhood, just one block away.  Her husband and I were in dental school together.  She stayed at home with her two young boys and offered to watch our Jack. It seemed to be an ideal situation. We were a happy family of three for nearly seven months.” Julie shared.   

“The trajectory of our life together changed when Jack was severely injured at seven months of age by our daycare provider.  It was a parent’s worst nightmare; your baby being hurt by someone you trusted so emphatically.  The sheer panic you feel as parents, when you realize your child’s life is in danger; is not a feeling we would wish upon anyone.” 

“Jack suffered a scalp fracture, a large subdural hematoma, and bilateral retinal hemorrhaging from blunt force trauma to his head.  He was rushed into surgery for an emergency craniectomy to relieve the swelling and bleeding on his brain. The neurosurgeon on call was within a block of the hospital and the team reported it was the fastest craniotomy/craniectomy they had ever performed in UIHC’s history.  The surgeon team reported that he was within one hour of death.” Chris shared.  

“Our baby went through so much trauma to his previously perfect little body. So many needles and IVs. We had to leave the room several times because the sound of his screams was too much to bear. So many sutures in his skull.  A helmet. A full body series of x-rays.”

The tragedy was incredibly difficult to process.  Chris and Julie were completely bewildered and could not fathom how this could have happened.  They’re even embarrassed to admit, but they defended their babysitter and assumed a terrible accident had occurred. After three intense days of investigation with detectives, their babysitter stopped lying and admitted her actions. They were devastated.

“We leaned on God and prayer during this awful time.  We relied on each other and our families for support. When I was weak, Chris was strong.  When he was struggling, I was there to build him up and offer encouragement.”  

All this information had to be processed during a time when Julie was intensely preparing for her patient-based board exam.  That exam would determine if she earned her dental license and she had invested tremendous amounts of time and money.  

Chris shared, “Julie did not want to leave Jack’s side. The thought of taking her board exam and leaving the hospital for two full days was too much to bear.  She was absolutely exhausted and resigned that she no longer wanted to be a dentist, she wanted to be a mother. It took myself, along with our mothers, to convince her that she MUST not only take this exam, but pass, for Jack, for our family. We had to convince her that his ability to have long term care may be determined by our financial situation and student loans must be repaid.  It was a gut wrenching time for her.”

The dental school sent out an email to all students and staff to not speak to Julie about the injury or Jack to prevent the flow of emotions. In the end, she courageously completed her board exam and scored well.

Jack had a second skull reconstruction surgery to replace the bone flap removed from his skull. It was a week long hospital stay. After much suffering, Chris and Julie chose to focus on gratitude and celebrate his life. They decided to be positive and happy their son survived his near death injury.  

They then chose to focus on his rehabilitation. Chris quit his job to focus on Jack’s care and therapy schedule full time. It was during this time the couple truly felt the gratitude that their son survived this horrible ordeal. “Our son may not have been the same child I gave birth to, but he was able to smile, laugh, and give me tight hugs with the one arm that worked. I finished my commitments to dental school and we decided on a general practice residency at UIHC in order to obtain health care coverage for Jack.  The wealth of experience and knowledge gained in that residency, combined with the expense of all Jack’s covered procedures was an incredible blessing to our family.”

“After Julie’s residency program we moved to Marshalltown and lived there for nearly three years.  Julie worked in public health dentistry and gained valuable experience. Savannah was born in Marshalltown in 2009.  Jack continued to have daily speech, occupational, and physical therapy. I was also able to do some pool therapy and take him to equestrian therapy since I was home full time.  Being a stay at home dad definitely had its challenges. It was very isolating at times, especially in Marshalltown where we had few friends and family. Taking care of an infant and a special needs toddler was exhausting, yet rewarding.”

“In 2012 we were ready to return to our roots and our families.  We looked for opportunities in private practice. Dr. Tom Tiedeman and I connected, and he was ready to retire.  I purchased his practice and he facilitated my integration into the practice.” 

“To say life was very busy is an understatement. Ownership of a new dental practice, another new baby, Chris at home with three kids. There were many trying and exhausting days for both of us. There were times Chris struggled with feeling alone taking care of three small children in a rental home that felt too tiny.  He was involved in the practice but his work was completed in the evening, after the kids were asleep, at a desk in the basement. There were times I felt so overwhelmed trying to manage patients and staff that I truly thought I had bit off more than I could chew.”  

“Dental school teaches you how to be a dentist.  It does not teach you how to be a business owner or a boss. We leaned on each other.  He tried not to feel resentful that he was somewhat “stuck” at home. I tried to not feel resentment that I was working so hard to make a living for our family.  Nontraditional gender roles can be very hard on a marriage.” 

“Women often times want everything just so in their home. Letting their husband take care of the baby or fold the towels can be hard if they want things done a certain way.  It sounds silly, but it’s true. I had to let go of A LOT and I had to trust that my husband’s way of doing things was just as good as the way I would do it. Chris had to let go of his pride and allow his wife to take the lead in providing for our family.”  

“Chris and I have learned that marriages like ours are special.  We truly didn’t realize that. We thought everyone has what we have.”   

“We together made a conscious decision several years ago to make the day of Jack’s injury a day of celebration. Instead of focusing on what he cannot do and what was stolen from him, we instead celebrate his life with what we call his Happy Day.  We choose to celebrate the day of his injury on April 21, 2008 and instead of allowing it to make us sad, we focus on gratitude for his life, God’s mercy for our son. That he survived and he is here with us.  We celebrate what he CAN do! ” shared Julie. 

“In the end, God is the center of our marriage. Praying together and focusing on our faith has been the foundation for our family.”

By Chris and Julie Lohr, owners of Lohr Family Dentistry.

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