Philo writes about experience with critically ill child to help others

Monday, June 29, 2009
(Sentinel photo by Beverly Van Buskirk) Jolene Philo of Boone credits her English teachers at Le Mars Community High School with providing her with the tools for good writing. Her first book, "A Different Dream for My Child: Meditations for Parents of Critically and Chronically Ill Children," will be published in September by Discovery House Publishers of Grand Rapids, Mich.

When Jolene and Hiram Philo's son Allen was born 30 years ago, his family started a roller-coaster ride of surgeries and hospitalizations.

It also put his parents into a void where they searched for help and information while trying to be strong for their son.

Now Le Mars native Jolene Philo has put that experience, along with the experience of 16 other families, into a book "A Different Dream for My Child: Meditations for Parents of Critically and Chronically Ill Children," to be published in September.

The book addresses the spiritual and emotional needs of parents of seriously ill children.

The Philos first child, Allen, was born with a life-threatening birth defect at a Spearfish, S.D., hospital. Within 24 hours, he was flown 1,500 miles away for surgery.

"We caught up with Allen two days later in Omaha after I was released from the hospital," Philo said. "We were plunked down in a city where we didn't have a support system."

There was no Ronald McDonald House, she recalled.

"At that time, there were no cell phones, no phone cards, and no Internet," she said.

They could use a toll-free line in the hospital's neo-natal intensive care unit, but finding someone to tell them what was going on was hard.

"I never forgot the sense of aloneness," Philo said with emotion.

Even with all the technology available now, Philo said any parent who is in that situation has that terrible sense of being alone and adrift.

"All those dreams you have for the child are now changed, it's a different dream," Philo said.

Throughout the next 15 years, Allen had six more corrective surgeries and countless procedures in four different states to correct the problem. He is now well and lives and works in Minnesota.

Philo was an elementary teacher for 25 years, and has worked with special needs student in a variety of settings, at a ranch for juvenile delinquent boys, in a one-room schoolhouse, and as a gifted and talented coordinator and teacher.

She also integrated special needs students into her third and fourth grade classrooms in collaboration with special education teachers.

Philo left the teaching field in 2003 to concentrate on a writing career. She has written more than 100 articles for publications including Focus on the Family, Parent Life, Home Cooking, indeed, and Mature Years. She blogs at Exceptional Parent magazine's website,, and is a columnist for, the Christian Work at Home Moms website.

A Le Mars Community High School and Westmar College graduate, the former Jolene Stratton still hears the voices of her LCHS English instructors, Merry Corbin, Kay Luckett and Stan Frerichs, as she writes. She credits them with teaching her the mechanics of good writing such as grammar and spelling, as well as encouraging creativity.

That help continued in college with Dr. Mark Minor and Ruth Monroe who both always gave encouraging and constructive comments on her written work, according to Philo.

Writing the book, "A Different Dream for My Child" is Philo's way of helping parents of critically ill children find the resources they need to get through the crisis they face. Helping them grieve their lost dreams for their children and then create new ones is her passion.

"Some of the worst hours for us were the hours sitting in the surgery waiting room, waiting for someone to tell you what's going on," Philo said.

Through her years as a teacher, Philo seemed to collect families with children who had been critically ill or have special needs.

Two are former students, one a relative, and others from church and people she had taught with.

One family with five children, each with some type of disability, gave Philo a lot of insight for her book.

"One of the hardest things was transcribing those interviews," Philo said. She shed tears through that process.

In the book, she talks about helping parents and critically ill children cope with the realities of hospital stays and caring for the chronically ill child at home, as well as the realization that not all children survive.

"Even those who lost a child 30 years ago were willing to talk about it now," Philo said. "It was amazing how gracious those parents were and how willingly they shared their pain and grief."

In telling their stories, they shared how their marriage was made strong, the family grew from the experience and they learned that life is important.

"Now most large hospitals have child life specialists for families who have children in the pediatric wards," said Philo.

Her book addresses the needs of parents with children in the hospital, those who care for chronically ill children, those who have lost a child, and those whose children have survived a serious illness and are living healthy lives. Each devotion ends with questions for reflection and application. The appendix connects readers to the author's website, where they can interact with the author via her blog and find resources to help them and their families.

"It will include links to get the to the resources they need," Philo said "I also want to bring in different experts to blog and give advice."

Philo and her husband, Hiram live in Boone. Their son, Allen and daughter Ann are both young adults. Philo is currently co-writing a fiction book with an author from Washington.

Philo's book, "A Different Dream for My Child: Meditations for Parents of Critically and Chronically Ill Children," will be published in September 2009 by Discovery House Publishers of Grand Rapids, Mich.

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