The city of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, is a pretty unremarkable place – in global terms – located on the west side of Lake Michigan, about midway between Green Bay and Milwaukee. Living there, however, is a truly remarkable woman named Cori Salchert. In fact, her story might just move you to tears.
After all, Salchert and her husband Mark have dubbed their home the “house of hope.” And with them having raised eight biological children of their own here, it’s undeniably a home that’s filled with love.
Previously, Salchert worked as a registered nurse at the Hope After Loss Organization, where she specialized in helping families deal with miscarriages or the loss of a newborn. It was also Salchert’s responsibility to cradle a dying child whose parents were too overcome to hold the infant as its pulse faded.
Though she found her job rewarding, Salchert naturally experienced the severe downside of her profession. After all, she often saw babies with terminal illnesses or severe physical disabilities who had been abandoned by their parents. Moreover, many of these children would never receive any care or affection from nurses. Instead, the kids Salchert called “hospice babies” were left alone in their cribs as they waited to die.
“There was no judgment on my part that the parents should just be able to deal with the circumstances,” Salchert said in an interview with The Sheboygan Press. “But I thought, ‘Wow, I would really like to take those kiddos and care for them.’” Soon, she would have the chance.
The Salcherts had always been warm to the idea of fostering and adopting children in need. But with eight children of their own and both parents working full time, it was an idea that simply didn’t seem very realistic. Then, however, Salchert lost her job.
In 2011 Salchert in fact contracted an autoimmune disorder. Moreover, this led to various operations and complications, and she was consequently no longer able to work – and lost all hope with it. She said, “My prayer at the time was asking how God could possibly use this for good.” But then she realized what to do with her newly free time.
Salchert reached out to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin to set about fostering children who had severe or significant behavioral challenges or medical needs. Shortly afterward, she was given Emmalynn, who had been born without most of her brain.
Although Emmalynn’s life was heartbreakingly short, Salchert insisted, “Emmalynn lived more in 50 days than most people do in a lifetime.” However, Salchert was understandably left devastated. So when her second foster child Jayden actually overcame his medical difficulties, Salchert felt that she had little more to give.
Her husband, however, offered her encouragement, telling her that this was her calling. Meanwhile, her daughter Mary Elizabeth said, “What if some kid really needs us and you’re just sitting here with a broken heart?” So in time, and with her kids’ blessing, Salchert set about fostering again. And the incredible resolve that Salchert displayed here is perhaps made made all the more impressive given her own background.
You see, when Salchert was 15 years old, her own sister passed away aged just 11. Her sister had developed spinal meningitis seven years previously, and, as a result of her fevers, the infant had suffered regular seizures along with brain damage and a loss of sight.
Salchert’s family did everything they could to give her sister the best life possible. However, Salchert’s father – much like Salchert would be herself – was then diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and was no longer able to work. The family had no choice: they sent their disabled child, by then five, to a specialist home. Sadly, tragedy struck six years later.
Unsupervised, Salchert’s sister made her way out of the home through a door that had been left unlocked. She was later found in a pond nearby, drowned, aged just 11. “It was a traumatic thing to have her die like that,” Salchert told People. “The hardest part was that she was alone. She was struggling and by herself.”
However, from the heartbreak of her childhood, Salchert finds the strength to care for unwanted babies like Emmalynn and Jayden. And it was through her work as a nurse that she found her calling to ensure that “no one had to die alone,” as her sister had.
So, with a renewed sense of purpose after losing Emmalynn and giving up Jayden, Salchert called the social worker. Then, a week later, she took in Charlie, a youngster with many medical difficulties. Straightaway, Salchert began learning his needs and how to care for him, with the help of Milwaukee’s Ronald McDonald House.
The condition Charlie suffers from is called Hypoxic Ischemic Brain Encephalopathy. He is severely mentally disabled due to a lack of oxygen reaching the brain. Additionally, he is completely dependent on breathing through a ventilator and fed through the tube. Crucially, though, he is now loved more than he knows.
Fully adopted as of December 18, 2015, Charlie is cuddled by his new sisters as they watch movies with him. The whole family takes walks with him when the weather is good. And he’s even been made an honorary fireman by the Sheboygan Fire Department.
It’s not always been easy, however. At one point, Salchert broke down while learning how to care for her adopted son, overwhelmed by the consequences should she make a mistake. “Kiddos with a lot of equipment were something that I never wanted to do,” she said. “I was scared to death I would accidentally hurt them.”
Nevertheless, Salchert’s eyes are wide open to Charlie’s fate. She told The Sheboygan Press, “He will die, there’s no changing that. But we can make a difference in how he lives, and the difference for Charlie is that he will be loved before he dies.”
Salchert added, “These children need nurses, but the overarching thing is, they need moms. Too many people never do anything because they can’t do everything and can’t save everyone. For me, even though I can’t help every child, I’m happy to make a difference in the lives of a few.”