A different Thanksgiving this year for the Hoekstra family

By: by Carol Feineman News Messenger Editor
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Family is everything.  That becomes clear around Thanksgiving as coworkers make airplane reservations to visit loved ones in other states and TV ads show happy families gathered around the table.

My favorite Thanksgivings have been those in which all my family members, scattered throughout the country, come home. For months after, the laughter and joy heard from the holiday meal table are my favorite memories.

For Arielle Hoekstra’s family, this year’s Thanksgiving will be one they will vividly remember forever.

The Hoekstras’ thanks this year focus on Arielle’s adorable 3-year-old, Sunnie, who recently suffered a stroke. Paralyzing Sunnie’s right side, the stroke took away her ability to talk,  to walk, to play;  actions we usually don’t think about.

Literally in an instance, everything we take for granted can change.  Without warning. As it did for the Hoekstra family of Lincoln.

Since Nov. 1, Sunnie has been at U.C Davis Hospital for rehabilitation. Her release date is not known at this time.

It had to be scary and unnerving for Arielle to hear from doctors that a clot on a very small vein near Sunnie’s brain stem caused the stroke. But, putting those fears aside, Arielle is working every minute of the day for her daughter’s recovery.

“Right now, what is most important to me is taking care of my daughter, treasuring all the time we have with family and friends, always coming closer to God and watching the progress Sunnie makes each day toward the little girl she was and learning who she will be,” Arielle said.

It must be heartbreaking and surreal for the 22-year-old mother to see her happy-go-lucky little daughter stuck in a hospital bed, surrounded with a feeding tube and wheelchair, with medical staff in the room 24 hours a day. Just two months ago, Sunnie was happily running around her backyard.

Yet Arielle remains positive,  for Sunnie’s sake.

I asked Arielle last Thursday how her daughter was doing.

“Today was a good day for Sunnie. She is eating a little more of a variety of foods but still having some difficulty with swallowing and liquids, she is trying to walk and work on her movement skills though we still don’t know how far that will go and she is mimicking sounds of words to try and speak,” Arielle said. “It’s a slow process but everyone is amazed at the changes between two weeks ago and now.”

Last Thanksgiving, Arielle and her daughter spent Thanksgiving at her parent’s campground “where we spent the night in the fifth wheel and had our turkey dinner.”

As of press time, Arielle hoped to spend this Thanksgiving today close by with family.

“This year, Thanksgiving is being thankful for our community and all the love and support we have gotten through the last month. The new friends we have made and the trials we have gone through that have made us stronger people,” Arielle said. “We are thankful for all the help and prayer that have gotten us through in one piece. I believe the menu includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans, brussel sprouts, pumpkin pie and lots of prayer.”

Grandparents Heather and Brad Hoekstra are also upbeat about this year’s Thanksgiving.

“I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving, No. 1, that Sunnie is still alive and we have every precious minute with her because it’s certainly something like this that makes you realize how precious every moment is with those you love,” Heather said. “I’m also extremely thankful for our town for the amazing and tremendous outreach and support we’ve received and I’ve never experienced anything like that. Sometimes, words are hard to come by.”

While they won’t have the comforts of home this Thanksgiving, Arielle and her parents will make today a truly joyful and traditional holiday.

“I’m thankful that the immediate family will get together and have some laughs, some sparkling cider at the hospital and enjoy each other’s company,” grandfather Brad said. “And this year, Sunnie’s great-grandfather will be there.”

It’s a nice break from a very trying time for the family.

“This month has been the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. What kept me going personally was occasionally every day, we get a little pearl, seeing little improvements,” Brad said. “We went from one day, a happy little girl running down the hallway, and the next day, she’s in a hospital bed and the lights are on but no one was home. She’s back.”

All three Hoekstras graciously mentioned the support received from residents. That support includes donations to a bank account set up for medical costs, toys and diapers.

“Spearheading all this outreach that has already occurred is Susan Barringer Morris and her husband, Marty. Susan has been this amazing advocate for Sunnie and what’s going on,” Heather said. “She’s the one who has spearheaded all the community outreach, started the Facebook page and created posts on Good Neighbors website. There are so many other people. Keller Williams with Hearts  that Care has made a tremendous impact along with Tom Allen of Fresh and Easy, Heritage Church and Bayside of Lincoln amongst other local merchants.”

The Hoekstras have greatly appreciated the help from Lincoln residents, many of them strangers to the family.

“We didn’t expect anything from anybody,” Sunnie’s grandfather said. “Everyone is wonderful. People brought us meals, the diapers – endless stream of diapers for awhile – she’s starting to use the potty now. There’s still so much we don’t know.”

How can residents help today?

“The support we’ve received so far has made a world of difference to us both materialistically and emotionally,” Arielle said.

“Prayer and well-wishes are always a No. 1 priority. It’s hard to say right now because the hospital provides a lot of the material she needs for rehabilitation but I don’t know yet if she will need those same things once she is ready to go home,” Arielle said. “Right now, I could say she will need a wheelchair and some special equipment but we are still hoping she will improve in her remaining time here and maybe she won’t... I just don’t know what else we will need until we go home, hopefully for Christmas.”