Courtesy, Paige Lombard
Having spent several years trying to conceive, Paige and Tate Lombard were ecstatic throughout Paige’s pregnancy. During her 28-week sonogram, though, everything changed. The baby, Archer James, was having heart trouble.
The sonogram at the San Antonio clinic showed something was wrong with Archer’s heart, but it wasn’t advanced enough to tell exactly what. The doctor immediately sent the Wall, Texas, couple to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, where they learned that baby Archer’s aorta was too small to pump enough blood, and the valve between chambers on the left side of his heart wasn’t functioning. “Those two things are so close to each other that you can’t fix one without fixing the other,” says Paige. “We had to fix both, and both are very hard to fix.” Most babies with this diagnosis wouldn’t make it to birth, but the couple was determined to do everything they could.
Beginning that January, the Lombards traveled 12 to 14 hours round-trip almost every other week to get to the hospital for check-ups. It was a pattern they would have to get used to, because even after Archer was born, doctors explained, he was going to need at least one heart surgery—and likely more.
Given medical bills, gas money, and the likelihood that Paige would need to take unpaid leave from work, bills were stacking up for the Lombards, who are both teachers in Wall Independent School District. But their hometown, considered one of the nicest places in America, rallied to their cause and wanted to make it as easy as possible.
Attending so many doctors appointments used up more paid time off work than the school district’s policies generally allowed, but the district told the couple that they’d figure out a way to make it work. The couples’ faculty colleagues pitched in to make sure both teachers’ classes were covered, and when Tate, who coaches girls basketball, couldn’t make it to practices or game, the assistant coach stepped up to cover. “To be able to just pick up and go and put our focus where it needed to be, which was with our family, meant more than you can imagine,” says Paige.
Realizing how many workdays Paige would have to miss for doctors appointments, Suzette McIntyre, technology director for the Wall school district, set up a GoFundMe page for the couple. Within two hours, it raised more than $4,000. Three months later, donations reached more than $54,000.
Donors included basketball coaches from rival high schools and complete strangers, but the couple’s were especially touched by the many $10 donations from high school students. “Those small things blessed us the most,” says Paige.
Courtesy, Paige LombardAnd the GoFundMe campaign was just the beginning. Other fundraisers sold Popsicles and “Archer” wristbands and raised money to get a dress-down day at school. Some Wall residents prepared meals for the couple to take to Houston, to reduce restaurant bills. Students and teachers hosted a poetry reading and presented Paige with a tree of gift cards to Houston restaurants, Other locals offered to watch their dog while they were gone. One hometown neighbor donated hotel points that gave them free stays in Houston, while other community members shared names and addresses of family in the area who would play host if a hotel room wasn’t available.
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After months of support, baby Archer was born on April 11. Paige and Tate got to see their baby boy briefly but did not yet get to hold him before doctors whisked him away for a heart stent and tests. Archer would need open heart surgery to fix his lower aorta and one of his heart valves.
Nine days after his birth, baby Archer underwent a 16-hour surgery to replace his aorta, thanks to an organ donation. The surgery allowed blood to start pumping, and that would do for a start. After such a long surgery, doctors held off on addressing the heart valve yet. Paige’s mom sat with Archer through the night, but by morning the news wasn’t good. Doctors warned the Lombards that things were not looking good. “It was just a matter of time,” says Paige.
The parents were able to spend a bit more time with him that day before Archer passed away at ten days old.
The town of Wall continues to support Paige and Tate as they grieve. Community members have helped with funeral arrangements and raised church donations in Archer’s name. “Even when having terrible, dark days, it was impossible not to see the blessings from our community,” says Paige.
Courtesy, Paige LombardThree weeks after Archer’s passing, the community is still showing their emotional support through cards, gifts, and even cookies. The Lombards have received letters from strangers explaining how the couple’s journey has helped them through the loss of their own child. “People are praying and talking about him and how he’s helped change them,” says Paige. “It [helps] being reminded of him and knowing other people are thinking of him. Not just [hearing] it once, but continually being supported and thought of and knowing he’s being thought of.”
Do you live in a place where people go the extra mile to help one another? Help us in our search for Nicest Place in America by nominating it today! If chosen, it will appear on an upcoming cover of Reader’s Digest!