'It's a huge day'

Columbia family celebrates getting vaxxed

Lena, left, hugs her mom, Emily Beydler, after coming home from school on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, at their home in Columbia, Mo. Emily said the two regularly participate in “hug time,” a reference to Lena’s favorite movie series, Trolls.

 In a house shared by five children and two adults, chaos isn’t just a given — it’s woven into the essence of the family. Through all the screaming and laughter, however, is a constant voice of reason, Emily Beydler, reminding her children to take themselves and others into consideration.

Each time 2-year-old Beatrice attempts to scale the back of the couch, Emily calls after her with a gentle reminder.“Let’s make safe choices, please!”When 6-year-old Mavis tries hopping onto the counter without the assistance of a step-stool, Emily is there to suggest second thoughts.“Are you making safe choices?”

Recently, the Beydler siblings were getting ready to make a major safe choice together and get vaccinated against COVID-19. "When you have five kids, one of whom is medically fragile and one of whom still isn’t old enough, it’s a huge day," Emily said.

Lena, center, holds her ears during a dance class on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, at The Dance Academy in Columbia, Mo. Lena struggles with sensory overload. She and her sisters, Mavis and Beatrice, attend an inclusive dance class each week that provides a sensory-safe setting for Lena to participate.

On Oct. 26, Emily's birthday, she received what she thought was the best birthday gift a mom of young children could ask for: A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee recommended the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. At last, protection from the virus was on the way.

The recommendation, and the overwhelming relief that came with it, was a gift Emily had waited on for months.

'All your kids need to be home'

The oldest of Emily and Nick Beydler's children is Jeremiah, 11, and the youngest is the intrepid toddler Beatrice. In the middle are the quadruplets.Mavis, Amos and Lena are the three surviving Beydler quads. They were born at 26 weeks. Mavis and Amos each weighed a mere two pounds at birth, while Lena didn’t break a pound, weighing just 15 ounces. The fourth Beydler sibling, Oliver, died shortly after birth but remains a remembered part of the family and forever one of the quads.

Beatrice, left, and Lena watch the movie Trolls together while Kara helps set up Lena’s nightly breathing treatment on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in Lena’s bedroom in Columbia. Lena was born with a chronic lung disease requiring oxygen treatments through her tracheal tube.

Lena spent her first 10 months in a neonatal intensive care unit. It was weeks before Emily or Nick Beydler were allowed to even hold her.

“(This is) a kid who has been told three times that she wasn't going to make it — and then she does,” Emily said. “We've had those conversations with the doctor. We had to have a DNR conversation when she was in the NICU.”

But Lena grew stronger, despite the need for a tracheostomy to help her breathe, a G-Tube for feedings and a full-time nurse (the family employs a day and night nurse). Home life was steady and good for the Beydlers.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic brought all those fears flooding back. Emily recalled the early warnings from friends in the know.

“We actually got some texts from some dear, dear doctor friends who were like, ‘Get her home. Get her home. It's coming, she needs to be home. All your kids need to be home,’” Emily said.

Because one of Lena’s main health concerns is chronic lung disease, the Beydler family took every precaution it could to protect her from the coronavirus. Her siblings were more than willing to make sacrifices to keep their sister safe, including Jeremiah’s decision not to return to in-person school until last February, a semester after his friends returned.

Lena, left, sits to read a book with her dad, Nick Beydler, while her siblings chase each other through the living room on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, at their home in Columbia. After he got home from work, Nick spent the afternoon reading with Lena and enjoying some downtime while the four other kids played.

Despite their best efforts to keep one another protected, the Beydlers had a rough encounter with the virus in August. Lena was the first one to develop symptoms. She became lethargic, sleeping for 20 hours a day while her vital signs remained steady. Nick recalled finding her asleep in the hallway, a worrisome sign for a child as energetic as Lena.

“It took a huge toll on her in the moment,” Nick said. “And there's so many things that do that for her. It just really was heartbreaking for there to be one more thing that she's having to fight through.”

After two days, Nick and Emily took Lena to the emergency room for answers.

“I’d heard about this before,” Emily said, recalling her fears. “You take your immunocompromised child to the hospital and you don’t bring them home.”

After tests revealing that her carbon dioxide levels were to blame for the fatigue, Nick and Emily were able to take Lena back the same day. One by one, the other Beydler family members showed symptoms of COVID-19. They recovered fairly quickly, but their fears for Lena persisted.

Tears, fears, bandaids and pride

Having COVID-19 meant they had a minimum 90-day layer of protection from the virus. Those three months were coming to a close just as mass rollout of the pediatric Pfizer vaccine began in early November.

For the Beydlers, getting vaccinated was more than a medical decision; it was a way to protect what they love most.

Lena’s day nurse, Whitley Chatman, left, and Mavis, right, help Lena pick out a sticker after the set of sisters received their COVID-19 vaccinations on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, at Russell Boulevard Elementary School in Columbia. Lena was upset to see no Trolls-themed stickers, but eventually settled on one from Frozen.

“It’s important that Lena gets the vaccine because she has really bad medical issues such as breathing, and I’ve heard that COVID can mess up your breathing,” Jeremiah said. “So if she gets this COVID vaccine, she’ll have a less likely chance of getting those breathing problems.”

Even for Amos, who was the most apprehensive of the siblings about getting the shot, it was an easy decision.

“I still need to get it, because it will help me be safe and healthy and strong,” he said.

When the big day came, the Beydler siblings held each others' hands through a few tears and little bursts of anxiety. After five minutes, though, Amos, Mavis, Lena and Jeremiah walked out of the library at Russell Boulevard Elementary School bearing Band-Aids as badges representing their safe choice. 

Lena Beydler, 6, admires the fall leaves in a neighbor’s yard while waiting for her siblings to get off the bus on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, at the corner of her family’s street in Columbia. Lena and her day nurse usually get home from school about an hour before her siblings.

By the end of the day, memories of the needle’s pinch had worn away, leaving excitement and relief.Emily hugged Lena close. “Show me your muscles! Show me how you fight COVID,” Emily said. The little girl flexed her arm like a champ, proudly showing off her Band-Aid.

Emily realizes vaccinating themselves and their children against COVID-19 is not everyone's choice, but she wants people to understand why it's so important to their family:

"She's our whole world."

This story was edited by Tristen Rouse with accompanying text from Jozie Crouch. The original story can be viewed here.

The Hearst Journalism Awards Program  granted this story ninth place in the Picture Story/Series Category in April, 2022.

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