Jennifer Gunter keeps busy with her children, 9-month-old Jacob and 9-month-old Andrew, earlier this month.Rick Runion Ledger Photos Jennifer Gunter holds her daughter Ava and son Jacob as Andrew sits in a bouncer at their home. Rick Runion Ledger Photos
From left, Jacob, Andrew and Ava. Rick Runion Ledger Photos Jennifer Gunter with her children Jacob, Andrew, and Ava. Rick Runion Ledger Photos Nine month old Jacob Gunter cries as his mother Jennifer stretches his feet and legs. Jennifer has to stretch Jacob every diaper change due to stiffness. Rick Runion Ledger Photos
This was the picture at the top center of the front page of the newspaper This was the caption under it: Jack and Jennifer Gunter embrace their son Logan on the day he died -- January 30.
Thank You to everyone involved with publishing this story. What a great testimony of God's love and a great community. I miss you sweet Logan. We will be together again in Heaven.
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Logan's Legacy: What One Baby Taught His Mother and So Many Others
By Rachel Pleasant
This Mother's Day, Jennifer Gunter may get a bouquet of flowers, likely a card or two, perhaps a hand-drawn masterpiece from her daughter, Ava.
She will go to her job as a licensed practical nurse at Lakeland Regional Medical Center and lose herself in the patients, the demands of the day.
She will go home tired, maybe enjoy a few quiet moments before she crawls into bed.
All day - and for the rest of her life - there will be a hole. A hole only Logan Christopher could fill.
I left work early on Saturday and just sat at his grave side and read my Bible, I thought it might help soothe the aching pain I feel inside, but of course it does not.- Jennifer's blog entry, April 12
NOT ONE BABY, NOT TWO, BUT THREE
Before there were babies, there was only Jennifer and Jack, a police officer in Groveland.
They met in 2002, chatting through AOL. They flirted, they commiserated. They fell in love.
Jack Gunter, 27, was especially drawn to Jennifer's support of his dream of becoming a police officer.
"She was willing to help me and get me on track," he said.
In 2006, they made their love official, marrying in a small church wedding in Highland City.
They honeymooned for a few days at Walt Disney World, then came back to Lakeland - the only home either has ever known - and settled into married life.
About a year later, they welcomed their daughter, Ava, into the world. She was the first, but they both knew she wouldn't be the last.
Both Jack and Jennifer, 26, come from big families and they both dreamed of having their own sizeable brood.
"She had a paper where she wrote down all the names of her children," Jack said, recalling Jennifer's baby plans that started when Jennifer was in fifth grade. "There were four girl names and four boy names."
The couple planned to get pregnant again in June 2009, when Ava turned 2.
But God and nature had different plans, and Jennifer became pregnant about six months early.
Having previously experienced a miscarriage, she was alarmed when she felt cramping and burning early in her pregnancy. She went to her obstetrician and had an ultrasound. A heartbeat was heard. Everything was OK.
Jokingly - but also because he really did want a multiple pregnancy - Jack made a request of the ultrasound technician.
"He said, 'Go find another one,'" Jennifer recalled.
To their surprise, that's exactly what happened. Another heartbeat, and still everything looked just fine.
The Gunters went home, a little surprised but certainly happy.
At 12 weeks, Jennifer had another ultrasound. They found another baby. This one was smaller than the others, but everything was OK.
"I was shocked and ecstatically happy. Not that many people get blessed with that many kids. It was nice to be different," Jack said.
Mixed in with all that shock, joy and excitement - as you would expect - was just a little bit of fear and worry, especially when they considered their finances.
The Gunters live in a modest white house with red trim on a cul-de-sac off Walt Williams Road in North Lakeland. Their story is like that of most people: they work, but the wages aren't always enough to cover everything. How would they pay for all the expenses soon to come?
Jennifer picked up as many hours as she could. Friends, family members and co-workers gave what they could. Members of Journey Church and Jack's parents donated so many diapers that at one time they formed a tower in the Gunters' garage.
The Gunters did the best they could, focused on the little miracles forming in Jennifer's belly, and faced each day as it came.
"We always trusted in God. He gave us three and we knew there was a way to make it happen," Jack said.
Carrying three babies at once is not easy for the mom or the little ones growing inside her.
Aside from the sheer physical demands, mothers carrying multiples have an increased risk of everything from miscarriage to preeclampsia to gestational diabetes to premature labor, said Dr. Shailini Singh, a professor in the obstetrics and gynecology department at Marshall University's Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine in Huntington, W.Va.
There are more doctor's appointments, more tests, more of everything.
Jennifer proceeded along just fine until 25 weeks, when she had some cramping and her doctor determined she was already 3 centimeters dilated and 70 percent effaced. Her cervix was thinning and expanding; she was in labor.
As a point of reference, a full-term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. With multiples, the general guideline is that in a best-case scenario delivery happens three weeks early for every additional baby - or six weeks in this case - said Dr. Julian De Lia of the International Institute for the Treatment of Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome in Milwaukee.
That's the guideline, but with multiples nothing is guaranteed. Still, it was too early for Jennifer's triplets to come.
Jennifer went on bedrest at Winnie Palmer Hospital in Orlando. At the hospital it was determined that two of her babies - Logan and Jacob, who developed out of a single egg that split and who shared a placenta - suffered from twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome.
Essentially, in twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome one baby receives too much blood and nutrients while the other receives too little.
The imbalance of nutrients and blood creates serious complications for both babies, said De Lia, who began studying twin-to-twin transfusion in 1983 and is considered a pioneer in laser treatment to correct it before birth.
"Think of conjoined or Siamese twins, but instead of the babies being joined by the body, they are joined in the placenta," De Lia said to paint a picture of the severity of TTTS.
Jennifer and her babies were watched carefully. At 27 weeks and six days, hospital staff told her the babies hadn't grown at all in two weeks. Also, Logan had been drained of his amniotic fluid, a result of the TTTS. They scheduled a Caesarean section and Jennifer delivered the babies at 28 weeks on July 18, 2009.
The world welcomed Andrew William, Jacob Ryan and Logan Christopher.
The difficult pregnancy was over, but the heartache was only just beginning.
Upon delivery, all three babies were transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit. They were early and faced a tough road, but the overall prognosis was optimistic.
As time went by, that changed.
Andrew, who had his own placenta in the womb, was OK other than being premature.
Jacob, however, was found to have an enlarged heart - a result of the TTTS that required it to work harder because of the extra blood it pumped, Jennifer said. His heart has corrected itself, but he has severe brain damage.
Those two boys went home Sept. 23.
Logan stayed behind and faced the toughest road of all. Severely underdeveloped lungs. Infections. A host of other medical issues.
Death teased the Gunters. One day Logan would seem so full of life, fighting to breathe and fighting the tubes and wires that did it for him when he couldn't. Just days later he would decline, barely with them.
But he always bounced back. He was a fighter.
"He was like me. He was stubborn," Jennifer said.
Even let my fears get the best of me and played what Logan's funeral would be like over and over in my head. I'm trying to stay strong for Logan. He is still fighting so I need to continue to fight with him. He is the strongest bravest person I know.-Jennifer's blog entry, Nov. 8
LETTING HIM GO
Just a few days before Logan died, Jack got a rare chance to spend some alone time with him.
The demands of work and home took so much of Jack's time that he didn't get to see as much of Logan as he wanted. But on this day, he got to be there. It was a good day, too.
"The last day that we were together, he was watching 'The Lion King.' I'd sit there and talk to him. He had little toys and birds that he'd watch," Jack said.
"He was healthy and happy and giggling."
The next day, Jack and Jennifer were to go back to the hospital to be trained in learning how to care for Logan's tracheotomy when he was released. He was coming home. Soon.
But on the way to the hospital, their cell phone rang. He was in trouble and it didn't look good.
They stayed by his side in the hospital for two days. The morning of Jan. 30, Jennifer knew it was time. Logan had fought so hard and she wanted him to know he didn't have to anymore.
"I laid hands on him and prayed to God to take him," she said.
The family spent that morning holding Logan and taking pictures with him. Jennifer finally got the opportunity to hold all three of her sons at once. It felt so good to hold Logan and not feel tubes and wires.
That afternoon, at 1:15 p.m., it all came to an end. Logan died at 6 1/2 months old.
"His whole body stiffened and then he relaxed," Jennifer said.
"I carried him back to the NICU, put him in a bassinet and we left him there."
I know my sweet boy touched many people's lives, I pray that Logan's purpose for being on this earth reaches you and that you too will know the love God holds for you in Heaven so you can one day experience it too. I love you Logan. You will never be forgotten by many.-Jennifer's blog entry, Jan. 30
One thing Jennifer has always known for sure is that Logan did not live - or die - in vain. She thinks his purpose here on earth was love.
That love came from the emotional and financial help the Gunters received at every turn. From the closeness with each other that deepened while caring for him. From the readers who followed the family's story on Jennifer's blog. From the comfort they found in God.
When it came time to bury Logan, the Gunters were determined to do it in a way that honored all the love he'd brought to their lives.
"I wanted a viewing, a procession. I wanted it all," Jennifer said.
The total came to $4,000. They didn't know how to pay for it - probably by running up their credit card bills - when an anonymous donor called Gentry-Morrison Funeral Home. He'd recently lost his wife and after reading Logan's obituary in The Ledger, he knew his wife would want him to do this.
He paid for the funeral in full.
More than 100 people came to the service, many of whom had never met Logan.
"We had an altar call after the service for anyone who wasn't saved. Six people accepted Jesus that day," Jennifer said.
The generosity of that stranger, the strangers who flocked to Logan's funeral and those who were inspired to be saved all because of him, Jennifer said, are Logan's legacy.
"He was a life changer. He changed my life. I'll never be the same. My faith will never be the same," Jennifer said.
2nd time since Logan has died, I had someone go "Oh twins, How sweet." So, today I corrected the lady when she said are all these kids yours? Look twins. So I said, "No they are actually triplets and Ava is 2. Then she looks around at the car seats and goes "where is the 3rd one." I could not bring myself to tell the lady he was dead. So I just said he was not with us right now.-Jennifer's blog entry, Feb. 7
[ Rachel Pleasant Chambliss can be reached at 863-802-7533 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ]
This story appeared in print on page A1 Sunday May 9, 2010