FRANKLIN, Tenn.—“If you’re going to go, go now.”
Those were the urgent words from a Florida hospital to Scott Kern and his wife, Anja. The Fort Myers woman was due to give birth to her third child any day, as Hurricane Irma approached their area.
“If you wait, then you have the risk of being stuck in a car (with) no fuel, and no ability to get to a hospital if she goes into labor.”
That was the start of a 900-mile journey that took the Kern family across Florida and ended unpredictably at Williamson Medical Center (WMC) in Franklin, Tennessee; complete with a healthy baby boy and a slew of new friends.
“It ended up being a really good blessing,” Anja Kern said.
“It was huge. A huge blessing to be here.”
The days before, however, were anything but.
Video: Anja Kern talks about the generosity she received during her stay at Williamson Medical Center (captions provided).
STORM ON THE HORIZON
Back in late August, Hurricane Harvey touched down in Texas and left unprecedented devastation. Irma then popped up on radar, and forecasters feared similar results in Florida.
Anja and Scott were at home, with sons Brayden, 9, and William, 19 months, when that news developed.
Judy Somero, Anja’s mother, was there, too. She drove down from South Carolina to help the family after the baby came. She brought along 4-year old Carey Moen, her grandson and the Kern’s nephew.
Anja’s obstetrician had recommended they come into their local hospital but, with a potentially catastrophic storm coming, its resources were stretched thin. Anja soon learned that the hospital was expected to admit so many people that she would be forced to sleep on an air mattress in a shared room, with little to no privacy. She could also only bring one person with her.
With her husband, mother, and now three young children in tow, the Kerns knew that was not an option.
“We knew we could face a pretty severe devastation if Irma hit,” Scott Kern said. “So, we wanted to provide the safest situation for (Anja and baby).”
The Kerns tried to find the safest spot within Florida. At the time, storm projections made it appear that Tallahassee was their best bet.
The storm had other plans.
Brayden Saari holds his baby brother, Matthew.
TALLAHASSEE TO TENNESSEE
The Kerns packed up and drove 400 miles north, to a hospital on the Florida Panhandle.
“As we were in Tallahassee, checking into the hospital there, the hurricane shifted again, closer to where we were,” Scott lamented.
Now the family needed an exit strategy, and came to terms with the fact that they would need to leave Florida to have their baby.
After an exhaustive search, they found all hotels within a couple of hours were booked. Keeping track of Irma’s projected path, the Kern’s decided to try their luck further north, into Tennessee.
Before getting on the road, the Kerns had to find a destination—and a hospital.
“I did a search for the best hospitals for Obstetrics in Tennessee. The first link that I came across was one for the Women’s Choice Award,” Scott said.
“And the first, the number one choice, was Williamson Medical Center.”
Scott had stumbled upon the 2017 results from the women’s consumer advocacy group, which listed WMC as its top pick.
The Women’s Choice Award’s website states the methodology behind how it chooses its top hospitals. It reads, “In arriving at our award determinations, we use the most recent publicly available information from The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), as well as accreditation information from appropriate sources. In some cases, we have surveyed thousands of women to determine which measures are most important to them.”
Doubling down on his research, Scott sought reviews online from former patients.
“I read the reviews,” he said, “and the reviews just confirmed the award.”
Scott was convinced.
“I told my wife that I think I found a place that would be safe, but, moreover, a hospital that could really care for her and our baby, being hundreds of miles away from our home.”
So, the caravan of Anja, Scott, Brayden, William, Judy, and Carey began the trek from Tallahassee to Tennessee.
19-month old William Kern gives his baby brother, Matthew, a kiss
A LONG TRIP
A travel lover, Anja was excited about the chance to be in the Nashville area, but was also quick to admit, “Leaving our home, and having our kids, and me being pregnant was all a little difficult to think about. What was going to happen, or how it was going to go?”
As could be expected, the trip north was a long one.
“We thought we had left early,” Scott recalled. “Even though we tried to get out days ahead of the storm’s arrival, gas stations were already out, heading north out of Florida. Completely out of fuel.”
They also had to contend with a jam-packed vehicle, including young children.
Nevertheless determined, Scott said, “We just kept focusing on the fact that we were heading somewhere safe and, at the end of the day, that was the goal.”
Around midnight, on Tuesday, September 5, the family of six finally arrived at Williamson Medical Center’s doorstep.
Video: Scott Kern talks about the daunting trip, from Tallahassee to Tennessee (captions provided).
STRANGERS INTO FRIENDS
Anja remembered the friendliness she encountered at WMC’s Obstetrics Department.
“I started talking to one of the nurses about that we were from Florida and that we’re here to stay until I have a baby, and some of the nurses overheard other ones talking, or us talking, and they wanted to help us out,” she said.
Word quickly spread about the family from Florida that somehow wound up in Franklin. Where would they stay until the baby came? Not only that, but what would they do after?
By this time, Irma was going through Florida, and Fort Myers was projected to be hit hard. It was no place for a newborn.
Little did the Kerns know that the nurses, and the rest of the Obstetrics staff, were busy calling hotels to see if they could take in the family. When that failed, the staff then looked into clearing space within their own homes. However, housing a family of seven would prove to be difficult.
Help soon came, thanks to labor and delivery nurse Kristie Lloyd, BSN, RN.
“We were all trying to figure out how to help this family,” she recalled, “days before Anja’s due date.”
With prospects looking grim, Lloyd suddenly remembered a Facebook post.
“A few days prior, our friend Tim Brister had posted on social media that he knew families with extra space to help any hurricane evacuees.”
She immediately called her friend.
“Within the hour, he had a family in Leiper’s Fork ready to take (the Kerns) in,” Lloyd recalled.
“I’m still just blown away how it all fell into place,”
For Brister, a leader of Covenant Community Church of Spring Hill, his efforts were based on two things; the first was experience. Just two years prior, he had moved to Middle Tennessee from the Kern’s hometown of Fort Myers. He knew what they were facing.
The second thing, was faith.
“Our minds were already made up to serve anyone God gave us the opportunity to help,” he said, speaking in reference to his congregation.
“Our faith family jumped in and adopted the Kern family. We wanted them to know the hospitality of Tennessee and generous welcome that comes from hearts fueled by the love of Jesus.”
Sunday afternoon, I received a phone call from Kristie Lloyd about a displaced family from Ft. Myers who needed a place to stay. I made a few phone calls and one of our church member’s parents had a fully furnished guest house in Leiper’s Fork just up the road. Come to find out, the wife was 39.5 weeks pregnant and they were hunting down hospitals and hotels that would take them. All the way up I-75 and I-65 they went until they landed in Franklin Tennessee at Williamson Medical Center. Like someone told me today, it was like Joseph and Mary with no room in the inn. 🙂 So our church decided to adopt this family over the past week, which has been so much fun. Tina, who volunteers at the local crisis pregnancy center, got a car load of baby supplies while others pitched in with Costco runs. The rest of us put our money together and dropped gift cards on them to cover their gas, groceries, and baby needs while they are here. 4 days ago, we were complete strangers. Today we put our arms around each other and wept for joy over God’s gift of life and prayed over baby Matthew who was born this morning. This week has been amazing. I love Jesus, I love my church, and I love seeing God orchestrate all things for our good and his glory. Amen. #loveyourdisplacedneighbor
A BIRTH AND AN UNEXPECTED GIFT
At 8:39 a.m. on Thursday, September 14, little Matthew Kern came into the world—a long ways away from where the family had thought he would be born.
Brister was there with the Kerns.
“In a matter of five days,” he said, “we went from complete strangers to weepy eyes and teddy-bear hugs as we celebrated, together, the birth of Matthew in the hospital room. Only God could have done that, and we are humbled and grateful to play a small part in the life of the Kern family during their time of need.”
There was another unexpected gift during this time. Scott’s parents, Bill and Linda Kern, who live near Indianapolis, had originally planned to fly to Florida to see Matthew after he was born. With Scott and Anja now located a lot closer to Indiana, Bill and Linda drove down to Franklin, arriving in time to see their grandson’s birth.
Two weeks earlier, no one could have imagined they would all be together in Tennessee, rejoicing the birth of baby Matthew.
Speaking of his family’s experience at Williamson Medical Center and Franklin, Scott said, “This community turned something that could have been a lot more stressful and hard into something that’s been beautiful and really going to be a memory that our family will pass down to a lot of generations.”
(L-R): Brayden Saari, Scott Kern (top), William Kern (bottom), Matthew Kern, Anja Kern
The Kerns spent an additional week in Franklin before heading back to Fort Myers. While Irma had left a lot of destruction behind, they were thankful to find that their home did not appear to suffer any major damage. However, the home had been without power for their entire time in Tennessee.
While they worked to clean up and resolve the issues the lack of power caused, the family had to stay in a nearby hotel.
The Kerns chose to not view it as a setback.
“Through it all, we have tried to focus on all our blessings and realize that, compared to others in our area recently affected by this wild weather, we have much for which we are thankful,” Scott said.
“Most of all, we were given the gift of life through the storm, and our family is so honored that Matthew was born in Williamson Medical Center and cared for by (its) wonderful community.”
The family had a chance to tell South Florida TV viewers about their experience at Williamson Medical Center. WINK-TV, the CBS affiliate in Fort Myers, interviewed them in early October.
With Matthew and Anja doing well, after a long and unexpected journey, the Kerns are ready to settle into a normal routine at home.
(L-R): Matthew Kern, held by Judy Somero, Carey Moen (bottom), William Kern, held by Linda Kern, Brayden Saari, Bill KernShare this Article