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Two families, one heart: How the tragic death of a baby in Racine saved the life of another in Kansas | Local News

Two families, one heart: How the tragic death of a baby in Racine saved the life of another in Kansas | Local News
Written by Publishing Team


Arkaydin Howard died at the age of 3 months. Her father, Jeremy Marquez, was convicted of second degree manslaughter in his death.

Submitted photo


Peter Hernandez, as a happy baby with a sick heart, in hospital after birth on August 18, 2018.


Two babies were born in 2018. Arkaydin Howard in Racine, Wisconsin. Peter Hernandez in Silica, Kansas. The two families did not know it, their stories would soon be deeply linked.

Christopher and Erin Hernandez gave birth to their third child, Peter, on August 18, 2018. He appeared to be in good health. But his heart was not functioning properly.

“It was a nurse who found out he had a heart murmur,” Christopher said. “With this analysis, they learned that something more immediate had happened and we hadn’t really had a lot of specifics at this point.”

But, the hospital they were in didn’t have the equipment to do more for Peter. After being sent to the Kansas City Children’s Hospital, the family were told Peter had a congenital heart defect: aortic stenosis.

Barely two weeks old, Peter would undergo his first surgery to repair his tiny heart. While the operation was initially considered a success, Peter contracted a staph infection that would destroy the repairs.

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After open heart surgery at just four weeks, Peter was doing better, so he wasn’t.

“The day we thought we were going to leave the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit), instead, he went into cardiac arrest and ended up on life support,” Erin said.

In November 2018, Peter was added to the transplant list.

Brittney Struebing and Arkaydin 3

Brittney Struebing snuggles up to her son, Arkaydin Howard.


“He was such a good boy”

That same month, Arkaydin Howard was born, on November 4, but his time was going to be short. Arkaydin’s mother Brittney Struebing said when he was with her he was a very happy baby.

“He was such a good boy,” Struebing said last November. “He was so cute, literally perfect.”

At just 3 months old, in February 2019, Arkaydin passed away while his father was supposed to take care of him. A jury found his father guilty of second degree reckless homicide in November 2020; he was accused of having shaken the baby. He is due to be sentenced on Friday.

Almost three years after her son's death, Racine's mother may soon hear her heart beat again

Struebing, a young adult, was faced with an almost impossible choice after losing her son: to donate her baby boy’s organs. In the end, Struebing chose to donate Arkaydin’s heart in hopes of helping someone else’s baby.

His heart would answer the prayers of the Hernandez family. Christopher and Erin called it bittersweet.

“You are literally praying that another child doesn’t make it and so you feel like – you aren’t – but that’s how it is because the greatest hope in our life right now is – that also meant someone else’s worst day of their life, “Erin said.


The Hernandez family, from left to right: Peter, Christopher, Erin, Aurora and Michael


Her heart is beating

Arkaydin’s heart is beating today. Peter received Arkaydin’s heart 4 months after being on the transplant list, during which time the Hernandez family had essentially become two units. Erin stayed in Kansas City with Peter in the hospital while Christopher, with help from family and the community, looked after the couple’s other two children, Aurora and Michael.

Peter’s parents expressed gratitude for their “amazing” community which helped help as the family struggled to bring Peter home, which they did when he was almost nine months old. But for Christopher, the most amazing thing was his wife. He jokes that she could go back to nursing school after learning so much from her experience with Peter.

“Erin has done a tremendous amount of work with him, because when you’re a mom with heart I think you’re a mom with heart for life,” Christopher said. “Heart Mom” ​​refers to parents of children with heart problems.

While the family has been in contact with Struebing through letters and phone calls, they first met via Zoom on Tuesday. Christopher and Erin explained to their children, now ages 3, 7 and 10, that Struebing is the “mom of the heart,” as they call her in their house.

Peter, like any 3-year-old, was playing with his “Paw Patrol” toys while wearing “Paw Patrol” footed pajamas, which he quickly showed to Struebing.

“Thank you for my heart,” Peter told Struebing.

Two families, one heart: recipient Racine meets the donor's family


Peter Hernandez, alive and well thanks to the heart given by Arkaydin Howard of Racine, smiles here at 3 years old.


Happy to meet them

Struebing said she was so happy to meet the family and to see that Peter was “so strong”. Erin and Christopher, who have said Struebing is now part of their family, are trying to find a way for her to listen to Arkaydin’s heart again and also plan to visit them.

“Thank you for keeping (Arkaydin’s heart) strong and carrying on, so thank you to you too,” Struebing told Peter.

After receiving physical, vocational and speech therapy, Peter lives like most 3-year-olds, playing games and causing chaos to his siblings. For Christopher and Erin, hearing their other children complain about Peter is actually a good thing, because it is “normal”.

By sharing their story, the Hernandez family said, they hope to raise awareness in the Racine community about healing from the tragedy of Arkaydin’s death and the situation in Struebing.

Grieving mother recognized stranger on TV as the man who received her son’s heart and rushed to him to feel his heart beating – now they see each other as family and talk to each other every day . Valerie Stebel, 45, lost her son, Cody, 20, to serious injuries in a car crash just months after passing her driving test in May 2017.


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