Baby going home with dad after mum's tragic death
JOHN Petrak will finally take his baby girl home today - eight tearstained days after the love of his life died hours after bringing her into the world.
Little Eleanor was delivered four weeks premature by emergency C-section after mother Imogen was rushed to Gold Coast University Hospital with an ear infection that resulted in severe swelling of her brain due to a suspected strain of bacterial meningococcal.
Within hours, the 35-year-old lost her battle to survive, prompting a flood of community compassion that has seen a Go Fund Me campaign raise more than $110,000 for her widower, daughter and 17-month-old son JB.
In an exclusive interview, Mr Petrak said he was overjoyed doctors had given him their blessing to take his daughter home after spending more than a week in the neonatal intensive care unit and special care nursery.
"I was expecting her to be there for at least another week but she's going so well," he said.
"Yesterday they let me push her out to the foyer, which felt so good because it told me she was getting better … I've visited her every day since she was born except the day of Imogen's funeral.
"The first few days we would only get small visits but once family could come, I said 'You're going to get the full dose (of love)' … she's going to be held by everyone when she comes home.
"Imogen's biggest dream was to see our daughter and she didn't get to do that. We knew we were having a girl and she was just aching to see her. She had all her dresses picked out.
"It would've been so hard if I lost Eleanor too but God spared her for us."
Asked to describe his emotions the day he met his daughter and farewelled his wife, John said: "The only way I can explain it was feeling every emotion at the same time.
"Worry, sadness, happiness, joy - everything all at once but no fear. The only fear was right at the start when those seven doctors were around her.
"That was a long couple of hours. Once they got the drugs into her, I thought 'It's OK, they'll find what's wrong and fix her' but that's not the way it went.
"I've seen how devastating hindsight can be. A $20 antibiotic on the Tuesday might have stopped it all and that can eat up anyone but I won't let that happen."
John said he felt relief that his toddler son was too young to realise what had unfolded.
"All JB knows is his routine is out," said the 38-year-old software developer, who met his wife four years ago. "He's overstimulated with so much change and is having a ball at the moment.
"He actually pointed at a photo of his mum with a happy smile yesterday but he doesn't know she's gone … our first night home together it was just me and him and we just chased each other around the lounge (having fun). We've still got to live."
Having initially declined his Lifehouse Christian Church pastor's offer to establish an online fundraising page in his honour, John said he was overwhelmed by more than 4000 people who had donated from as little as $5 to several hundred.
"I've got no words for it," he said.
"How many people lost loved ones that day but they're doing this for me. All these people who don't know me have given so much for me and my family.
"I've written a thank you (note) to go online and 'thank you' is all I can say. It seems like it's not enough but that's all I've got."
WORDS OF A WIDOWER
The move: "My sisters haven't even got to hold Eleanor yet because they've been helping me move this week. Two weeks before Imogen died we decided we'd move in November from our Runaway Bay unit to a house at Ormeau but this all brought it forward. I didn't want Eleanor to move twice."
The week: "My family and friends have done so much for me. I've been in my own little bubble. I haven't had to worry about the house move - nothing. I've just had to worry about Eleanor and JB … I'm blind to the (long-term) future. I've just got to look after them."
The Meeting: "I'm not one for coincidences but one night about 11.30 I prayed for God to give me a wife. I had never done that before and the very next day a lady came up to me at church and introduced me to Imogen."
The Love: "You have no idea how special Imogen was. No one does … I'm not one for chatting with strangers, I usually just listen, but on our first date we talked until they kicked us out of the coffee shop because it was closing. That night I wrote in my journal 'I think she's the one'."