After rough start, Landon Zwerk harvests honors
By Tom Gilchrist
For The Advertiser
DENMARK TWP. — Farm boy Landon D. Zwerk hauled in a bumper crop this year: scholarships, academic and athletic awards and — because of his grade-point average at Vassar High School and college test scores — paid tuition at Saginaw Valley State University.
Zwerk, 18, co-valedictorian at Vassar High this past spring, plans to acquire a business management degree from SVSU and then work for his family’s Zwerk & Sons Farms, a 20-person operation farming about 6,900 acres in Tuscola and Sanilac counties.
Nineteen years ago Thursday, though, Landon Zwerk was born into a December of doubt.
His birth was six weeks premature, and he developed two collapsed lungs. He lived in Covenant HealthCare’s Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Saginaw.
His parents, Marty and Ann Zwerk, weren’t allowed to hold him.
“We worried every time we left him — and even when we were with him — that he might not make it, especially in his first few weeks,” said Ann Zwerk, 47. “It was very stressful, but we knew that God gave us this child, and all was in his hands.”
Juliet L. Garbow, then a registered nurse at Covenant, was Landon’s bedside caregiver.
“He was really a sick little cookie,” Garbow said.
“The air goes out of the lung and compresses the lung, so the baby can’t breathe well,” said Dr. Khawar Mohsini, one of the neonatalogists who treated Landon.
On Landon’s second day, doctors operated to insert a tube in his chest to release air that was compressing the lung. They had to do the same surgery several days later to relieve air pressure outside the other lung.
“He was just so sick,” Ann Zwerk said. “He was hooked up to so many machines. He had his first surgery and he didn’t get his first chest tube out until he was about six days old, and then he turned around and got another chest tube (inserted). He really wasn’t stable.”
Doctors placed an oxygen hood on the newborn, and later placed Landon on a ventilator to assist with breathing. They also administered steroids to help the lungs develop and decrease inflammation.
The Zwerk family, members of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Richville, “prayed all the time,” Ann said.
After 10 days, Ann Zwerk was able to hold her baby. The cumulative treatments, along with time, worked in the infant’s favor. “And he didn’t have any anomalies or a disease process,” Garbow said.
After 33 days in the hospital, Landon came home.
“When you look back, you think ‘Gosh, if he wouldn’t have been spared, look at all that you would have missed,'” Ann Zwerk said. “But he really had no side effects. Once he left the hospital, he had no limitations. We were just lucky. Just blessed.”
As a recipient of SVSU’s Presidential Scholarship, Zwerk earned the university’s “highest academic scholarship for incoming students,” said university spokesman J.J. Boehm.
Landon played baseball, basketball and football for Vassar High, earning various honors for his performance both on the field and in the classroom. He acquired a perfect 4.0 grade-point average in high school, while earning 20 college credits as well. When asked his formula for academic success, he gave a simple answer.
“I guess just work hard,” he said. “Put time in, and you’ll see the results. That’s about what it comes down to.”
Earlier this year, Landon Zwerk and his mom — along with Landon’s older sister, Haley, 20 — returned to Covenant’s Harrison Campus, where he was born.
Garbow, now a neonatal nurse practitioner at Covenant, gave him multiple hugs.
“I can’t believe it’s been 18 years,” Garbow said. “We see a lot of babies — like, 700 or 800 babies a year — but Landon was special. … You remember the sick kids more than you do the healthy ones, because we just kind of want to follow through with the care.”
Tears welled in the eyes of Garbow — who grew up on a dairy farm in Hennepin County, Minn. — when the Zwerks presented her with a “Zwerk & Sons Farms” sweatshirt on Landon’s return visit.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Garbow, of Saginaw Township, after hugging Landon. “If you can’t have that attachment to your patients, then you shouldn’t be in nursing.”
Ann Zwerk said that “just watching (Garbow and Landon) talk to each other warmed my heart.”
Dr. Mohsini also stopped to chat with the Zwerks on Landon’s trip back to Covenant.
“I was glad Landon got to meet and thank the people that saved his life,” Ann Zwerk said.
Landon said he’ll return home from his SVSU dorm room on weekends and in the summer to work on the farm. In addition to his sister Haley, he has two other sisters: Macy, 15, and Lainey, 13.
Haley Zwerk also receives the President’s Scholarship as a student at SVSU. Like her little brother, she was co-valedictorian of her class, with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.
Landon said he has no lasting problems related to his health troubles as an infant. His chest still bears the marks from where doctors inserted tubes 19 years ago.
After his return visit to Covenant, Landon received high grades — for his courtesy — as he chatted at length with the medical staff.
“I’m in awe of how they raised this little guy to love his mother so much and to respect his elders so much that he came up here to the (neonatal intensive care) unit and he was totally polite and respectful,” Garbow said. “You don’t see that very often.”