JUNCTION CITY — Father’s Day is a celebration for male role models that have been a part of young children’s molding minds. For one father, this is his first go at raising a boy and he takes advantage of every moment he can to help his ill son, Harrison Paul Clark.
John Clark, of Junction City, is the current owner of Clark’s Grocery store. He took over the family-owned grocery store in January of 2016 and was all about keeping the family business running. Starting a family was not his priority at the time.
“It’s definitely a full-time job,” Clark said. “Starting a family, for me, wasn’t even in the works.”
Clark met the mother of his son in elementary school and the two continued their journey through high school as well. Little did they realize at the time that they would reconnect in late 2016 and develop a relationship.
“She started working at a local business,” Clark said, speaking of his partner and mother of his son, Kristaine Mildenstein. “I ran into her there and we just hit it off from there.”
The couple never talked about having children. Mildenstein has five children of her own from previous marriages that currently live with the couple. It wasn’t until two years into their relationship that Mildenstein told Clark that she was pregnant that he started thinking about raising a family. One of her children is three years old so Clark had the opportunity to watch a child grow with her mother.
“I knew with her guidance, I was in good hands,” he remarked.
Clark now had to choose between raising a son versus making time for the family business. But at the same time, he was thrilled to be a father.
“Not knowing if I wanted to be a father and then getting the opportunity to be a father, I was definitely happy,” he added.
July 17, 2018 was the date that Mildenstein was schedule to be induced at Genesis Hospital in Zanesville. The idea was that Mildenstein would have a natural birth but the doctors at the hospital told the couple that a caesarean (C-section) needed to be done. This was due to Harrison being sideways in her utero, which made it very difficult for a natural birth.
“We both were against it,” the young dad continued. “But there’s not much you can do. If Harrison has to come by c-section, then that’s how he has to come.”
The c-section went well with no complications, Clark noted. However, when the medical staff was giving Mildentstein stitches, her uterus was still bleeding. Things turned dark for Clark as Mildenstein was assumed dead on two occasions while in the hospital. She was given 22 units of blood. The average adult holds approximately eight to 12 units.
She was then flown to The Ohio State University Hospital in Columbus, where the medical staff was able to stop the bleeding and put her in stable condition. Clark stayed with his son at Genesis Hospital and would eventually go to Columbus to see his wife a few hours after she was air-lifted.
“It was very scary to see,” Clark commented. “It was a matter of seconds to where she took a turn for the worst.”
Clark went back to Genesis to see his son again, and through what seemed to be the worst, was still a magical moment for Clark. He was now a father and happy to meet his son.
“After he was born, the nerves went away,” he told The Perry County Tribune.
Clark would spend the next few day going back and forth from Columbus to Zanesville visiting his son and girlfriend. Clark, at the time, was unable to take his newborn son with him to see his mother. This is because the couple are not married.
According to Ohio Revised Code 3109.042, an unmarried woman that gives birth is considered the legal sole residential parent. Clark and Mildenstein had to sign an affidavit before he could take Harrison to see his mother.
“It was tough,” Clark said. “There’s nothing like the heartbeat, the smell of the new baby — she just wasn’t getting that through pictures.”
Although the family was together, another challenge would soon test the couple. Three months after his son was born, Harrison started to develop breathing issues. As his symptoms grew, the couple took their son to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Harrison has had a total of 12 respiratory infections and seven respiratory viruses including a very weak immune system.
In November of 2018, Harrison was diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus or RSV. The illness is most common with newborns and can affect the nose, throat and lungs.
“You just feel so helpless,” Clark said. “For one, he can’t tell us what he’s feeling and where he’s hurting. You just don’t know in the moment what to do.”
Harrison is steadily improving in health, Clark remarked. While his life is hectic with doctor visits, Clark still has duties at his grocery store.
“I am just happy that I have my own business because I think I would be fired anywhere else,” he noted. “I have taken a lot of days off work.”
Clark has 10 employees working at the grocery store. He stated that his staff has been understanding and willing to pick up the slack as he takes care of his son.
“It is a little bit more time-consuming than what I would’ve ever have thought,” he added.
Clark has been a father for almost 11 months. His outlook on being a father has changed his perspective on what he values in life. The focus on his business has taken a back seat to his family.
“You’ll never experience the love like you do for a child especially your own child,” Clark concluded.