- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. (AP) - Life is a gift and no one knows that better than Sarah Jean Sailor of Devils Lake.

Her story is one of love, courage, loss and hope.

LaVonne Kay (Deseth) Schlieve married Mark Mercer on April 27, 1996. They were blending their family into one, a new start for all.

The couple found a new home and was in the process of moving into it in July when the accident happened.

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It was July 20 and John Wayne Wilke’s vehicle hit LaVonne’s as she was busy moving items into the new home. She had just dropped off a load of stuff and was on her way back to Devils Lake to pick up another load when she was hit.

Wilke was killed in the accident. LaVonne was badly injured, barely hanging on by a thread to life. She was pregnant.

Comatose, on a ventilator and feeding tube, LaVonne spent the next few months in Merit Care hospital and Rosewood on Broadway nursing facility in Fargo to give her child life. No one knew how it all would affect the baby yet to be born.

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On December 8 at 7:18 p.m., five weeks early, little Sarah Jean Mercer was born by Cesarean section. She weighed 6 lbs. 6 ounces and she was 18 and 3/4 inches long. She was born with one kidney that didn’t develop fully and one ear that needed surgery down the road, but other than that, she was remarkably healthy.

The entire city of Devils Lake embraced little baby Sarah. They held a citywide baby shower for her and the Eagles held a fundraising dart tournament and a dance with all proceeds going to Sarah’s family to help with expenses., the Devils Lake Journal (http://bit.ly/1Joe3bi ) reported.

Merit Care Hospital had made certain that LaVonne had sufficient nourishment and oxygen for the baby although she, herself, was in a coma. After Sarah’s birth they weaned LaVonne off the ventilator and she remained virtually unresponsive although she did open her eyes and sigh occasionally. That was the extent of her interaction with the outside world.

Eventually LaVonne was moved to Devils Lake Good Samaritan Center so she could be closer to her family members here in Devils Lake.

Mark had a difficult time with LaVonne’s accident and injuries so his sister, Julie Sailor, stepped up to raise Mark and LaVonne’s little girl. “Being able to help my brother, Mark, during the difficult time following the accident and the gift of raising Sarah Jean was a blessing. I am grateful to Mark for trusting me to raise his daughter,” said Julie.

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It didn’t take long for Sarah to become Julie and husband Brian’s daughter as they fell in love with the beautiful, sunny child born under such touching circumstances. Paternal grandmother, Irene Mercer, was an important part of those early years of Sarah’s life babysitting and helping out while Julie was at work.

Although Sarah had some physical challenges that resulted from her mother’s injuries, miraculously she was not injured in the accident.

Julie faithfully brought Sarah to the Good Sam day after day to lay by LaVonne’s side, even speaking to her, pleading with her to “come back, your daughter needs you.” But that never happened.

“That was tough,” Julie admits.

“I would bring her and lay her next to her biological mother who was just lying there in that bed and I would just cry.”

It was a scene that would break the hearts of many who worked at the Good Sam and knew the situation.

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On Aug. 2, 1998, LaVonne died in the Good Samaritan Care Center.

In April of 1998, the Sailors were granted legal custody of Sarah Jean, her biological father, Mark, was in favor of it, and in February of 2002, she was legally adopted.

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Sarah Jean Sailor was one of 113 students who graduated from Devils Lake High School last Sunday. She wants to go to school at LRSC next year to get some of her general studies completed then go on to become a massage therapist.

“I want to do something to help people,” she said.

As she reflects on her time at DLHS, she says her favorite teachers were Mr. Marquardt, the American Studies teacher because he was always “cool, calm and collected” and for his unique methods of making learning fun.

She says Marla Luehring also was one of her favorite teachers. “I really enjoyed her classes,” Sarah said.

Sarah is a bright, sunny young woman looking forward to a future filled with good things. She credits her parents, Brian and Julie, for the solid home life and foundation she’s received that has helped her get to this point in her life.

She’s also looking forward to her future and her graduation gift from her folks — a trip to New York City where together mother and daughter will visit the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Madison Avenue, see a Broadway show and have a wonderful time together.

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Information from: Devils Lake Journal, http://www.devilslakejournal.com

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