Our third major assignment in my journalism class was to write a profile. I had the privilege of profiling the family of miracle child, Peyton Skrysak. Their story is one of heartbreak mixed with joy and hope.
“Peyton has a really amazing story,” said IlliniThon’s family relations director, Lauren Adrian. “She was – she is a triplet. Her family likes to say she is a triplet because she is.”
Peyton Skrysak and her parents, Ryan and Stacey, are one of the many families that have been helped by St. John’s Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Miracle Network and IlliniThon. IlliniThon is an annual Children’s Miracle Network event that raises money for St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Ill.
In 2013, Stacey Skrysak, became pregnant with triplets. The Skrysaks knew her pregnancy was high risk but they never imagined what was coming.
“You never know what curveballs life’s going to throw at you,” said Ryan.
As a news anchor first for News Channel 17 and now for News Channel 20, Stacey’s pregnancy and time on bed rest were very public, and she has allowed viewers to keep up with Peyton’s life.
On June 23, 2013, only 22 weeks and six days into Stacey’s pregnancy, her triplets were born. Babies aren’t usually considered viable until 23 weeks, but doctors decided to give her children a chance.
Abigail was born first and only survived for about two hours because her oxygen levels never stabilized. She was Peyton’s identical twin and the Skrysaks love to imagine them together and think about all the trouble they would be getting into.
Stacey explained that Abby was having the most complications and it was amazing that she hung on for as long as she did. That extra time gave her siblings a chance to live.
“Abby was a big fighter, even though she didn’t survive,” Stacey said. “We’re very grateful to her because she really saved our other children’s lives.”
Seventeen hours later, Parker and Peyton were born and immediately taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Stacey was also rushed to the intensive care unit (ICU), because she had an infection and her body went into septic shock after giving birth.
“I had to deal with thoughts that I hate to go back to,” said Ryan. “I had two children in the NICU and my wife was very sick in the ICU.”
As soon as Stacey’s television viewers learned about Abby’s death and Parker and Peyton’s stay in the NICU, Stacey received hundreds of emails. Gifts were sent to the NICU for Parker and Peyton from people the Skrysaks had never met.
“I realize that I had a whole community really around the world supporting me. That’s what’s helped me the most, and two years later, that’s still what helps,” said Stacey.
While in the NICU, Parker was the one that all of the nurses wanted to take care of.
“He was just a sweet little boy. He was a little blondie and just precious,” recalls his mother.
However, like many premature babies, Parker had many other health issues. He had endured one surgery and was slowly becoming paralyzed. Parker died when he was 55 days old.
“People are always like ‘I’m so sorry for your losses,’” said Stacey. “I look at it as: I got two precious months and I have these pictures that are just gorgeous of him. He already showed his personality in those first two months.”
Peyton, now two and a half years old, was in the NICU for four months. She had surgery on her eyes, heart problems and a few other issues. Peyton’s nurses nicknamed her the princess or diva of the NICU because she could really be a pain to take care of.
“She’s got this personality,” explained Stacey with a smile. “She’s got all three of the kids in her and that’s what I love. We always say we’ve got her brother and sister living in there because no one has this much personality.”
Peyton has a few developmental delays in her speech and the strength of her muscles because she was a preemie. She works with many therapists and they have helped her catch up with other kids her age.
According to her mother, Peyton really thinks she’s “one of the big kids” when she spends time with the college students involved with IlliniThon. The family attended IlliniThon for the first time last April and also visited campus to share their story at Illinois Sights and Sounds, the freshman welcome event, in August.
“When we got up on stage and shared our story, Peyton was walking around across the stage clapping for herself and telling people hello and just dancing with the kids,” said Stacey as she described their first IlliniThon experience.
The scene was similar when the family visited for Sights and Sounds.
“She was just running around the football field and everyone was just obsessed with her because she loves to dance,” said Adrian.
“The best thing [IlliniThon has] helped with is seeing our daughter blossom and bloom,” said Ryan. “What they do for the kids and how they support the children is very uplifting for me. It’s nice to see the college kids support people and try to help them in any way that they can.”
Stacey has made it her mission to use her family’s story, the memory of her children and her platform as a television anchor to help other families. Her boss has allowed her to raise awareness about issues like child loss and NICU families. She also shares the joys and struggles of raising her surviving triplet and remembering her two angels on her blog, Perfectly Peyton.
“After [Abby and Parker] passed away, I said ‘there’s got to be some good that comes out of this,’” said Stacey. “It made me realize that I can use myself for the better. My children have made me stronger than I ever thought imaginable.”
The Children’s Miracle Network and IlliniThon love having Stacey on board.
“Stacey’s always very open about sharing their story, especially because it’s definitely a hard one to tell,” said Adrian. “That’s been a blessing for us at IlliniThon, to have someone who’s so open about such a powerful story because it only helps people understand why you should do it.”
The members of IlliniThon’s executive team work hard all year to raise money and get ready for the event.
“Being able to see [Peyton] and play with her and pick her up and see that her hair is getting longer, you really get to see that this is the reason why I’m doing this,” said Caroline Eichelberger, a member of IlliniThon’s executive board.
All the members of IlliniThon’s executive board love the kids. For many of them, the best part of being involved in the organization is getting to know the families and their stories.
“I always tell [Peyton’s] story,” said IlliniThon’s fundraising director, Courtney Wright. “First of all, she’s adorable, but she is actually the youngest baby ever to survive at St. John’s Children’s Hospital.”
“She’s pretty much the epitome of what a Children’s Miracle Network child is because she really is a miracle,” said Stacey. “There is no reason why she should be alive today.”
To join me in supporting IlliniThon and kids like Peyton, make a donation.