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Published on April 19, 2021

Jason and Emily Feldhaus

Just a Regular Day

Emily’s Story Lights the Way for Others

They say a parent is as happy as their unhappiest child. For Emily and Jason Feldhaus, this meant many years of struggle, mental anguish and stress as they sought ways to find the right combination of treatment for their troubled son. Starting at the young age of 8, Emily could see the signs. Thankfully, she worked as an emergency department nurse at  Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell, SD.

But no emergency training could prepare her for what she was about to encounter.  

He was only 11 years old when their son attempted to take his own life.

It was a day like any other when they came home and found their beloved son with a suicide note and a weapon. Moments later, their son was on his way to the Avera Behavioral Health Center in Sioux Falls, SD. For the next 12 days, he remained in the care of the doctors and nurses at the behavioral health. Although extremely difficult for Emily and her husband, they knew he would not be safe at home and that he needed the help of professionals. The family made the difficult decision to turn the situation over to those who could help him best.

After two weeks at the Avera Behavioral Health Center, he began to show signs of improvement. Even a small smile gave the family much-needed hope. Emily credits the caring staff and healing environment for helping her son make progress. Discussions began about his return home. Emily was very hesitant and still questioned his safety; often internalizing the situation by even feeling guilt and shame. As her husband struggled alongside her, they relied on the compassionate staff at Avera to put their family together again. 

Emily took on extra hours so she could be by his side during the time they were allowed to visit. Often demanding to go home, he remained under the care of the staff at Avera Behavioral Health Center until he was ready to be discharged. Intense medication and therapy were pivotal in his success. However, that didn’t change his mindset that they were trying to change him as a person. He couldn’t even see for himself how much he was hurting.

For the first few weeks at home, Emily and Jason still had many fears. As an emergency department nurse, Emily knew that “where there’s a will” and people will choose to take their life if that’s their will.

The Feldhaus family spent the next few years on high alert, sometimes even panicking when getting home if they could not locate their son right away. It was always in their minds that he could be lying lifeless in the next room. But thanks to the care they received, life carried on and he even took interest in a therapy dog. It’s this connection to animals that led him to get a dog of his own which lifted his spirits immensely. Soon he was off his medication and doing well. But the Feldhaus family was still trying to deal with the situation and remain aware of how many other cases are similar to their own.

Today, he is a high school senior and recently joined the National Guard. Along with being a straight A student, he also does very well at his job. The Feldhaus family doesn’t talk about the incident much with their son but let him know that sharing his story will help others. She often recites that “normal is just a setting on a dryer” when talking to other families in similar situations.

Both Emily and Jason are forever grateful to those who support families like their own at Avera Behavioral Health. She credits the daily care conferences as part of their success. The personalized care with the counselors made a big difference. They also prepared them for vital aftercare; remaining in touch and on the lookout for warning signs.

But they also know not every story ends well. That is why the Feldhauses are thankful to those who generously support programs and services for adolescents cared for at the Avera Behavioral Health Center.

“We are really happy to see the expansion for Avera Behavioral Health Center because it will save so many lives. When there’s no place to keep them safe, Avera has provided compassionate care close to home. My son would not be here if it weren't for their services. He would be a shell or in heaven. We are grateful for those who made gifts because investing in mental health is valuable. Just because you cannot see it, anybody can be affected at any time.”

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