Two baseball teams and a stadium full of fans celebrated as 5-month-old Harper Marie Hepner, who entered the world eight weeks premature at 2 pounds, 7 ounces, crossed home plate with the help of her parents at the Spokane Indians game Friday night.
Caitie Hepner, Harper’s mother, said she had been closely monitored by her doctor before Harper was born and her husband, Joe Hepner, said she was on bed rest for weeks. Caitie had been diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, a condition causing high blood pressure, which developed into the more dangerous HELLP syndrome. Caitie said if she hadn’t had an emergency C-section, she and Harper would have died.
For the first 41 days of her life, Harper lived in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at MultiCare Deaconess Hospital. Her family stayed at Ronald McDonald House in Spokane during that time, and Caitie would walk back and forth several times a day to feed and care for her daughter. On Easter, Joe and Caitie were able to take Harper home.
Harper is now 11 pounds, 5 ounces, and Joe said he’s been helping her walk around and thinks she’s really strong for her age.
Caitie said Harper has hit all the milestones for her age, and she’s healthy and happy.
“The only reason you know she’s a preemie is she’s small,” Caitie said. “And I’m not exactly big myself.”
Otto Klein, senior vice president for the Spokane Indians, said the team tries, through Home Runs for Hope, to honor individuals who have overcome obstacles, have given back to the community or who have accomplished something great.
In honoring the Hepners, the teams paused the game in the fifth inning and lined up along the first- and third-base lines. Klein said they have only paused the game for one other person, a soldier returning from Afghanistan who reunited with his family on the field.
“There are large achievements in life that need to be recognized,” he said, “and we can pause a baseball game to do that.”
Klein said they also wanted to take the opportunity to announce the new Ronald McDonald Family Room that opens in August. The new space is on the same floor as the NICU area, making it easier for families to see their babies throughout the day.
The Hepners said the last few months have shown them how much support they have around them. Joe, who works as an engineer at Bay Shore Systems, said some of his co-workers donated their vacation time so he could be with his family, and the company made the Ronald McDonald House the beneficiary of its charity golf tournament, raising $30,000 for the home.
Before they left the hospital, the Hepners took a family photo with the nurses in the NICU unit and Harper’s doctor. Caitie said they still keep in contact with many of the other families they met at Ronald McDonald House, some of whom are now close friends.
“It really takes a village to raise a baby, and we have a really good village,” she said.
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