Cousins, born on same day, bring joy after death

Sisters Jen Nelson, left, and Karie Geyer gave birth to boys on the same day. Hunter John Nelson and Raymond John Geyer each have a proud older sister, Kinsey, 2, and Mahree, 7. Farm Forum photo by Victoria Lusk

By Victoria Lusk [email protected]

In November, two sisters each gave birth to their second child, both boys, on the same day at Avera St. Luke’s Hospital.

A birthday wouldn’t be the only thing the boys would share.

Had he met his new grandsons, the late John Pallansch, would’ve been honored that each has John as a middle name.

A diagnosis

Pallansch was a family man, a steward of the community he lived in, and a Christian who often sang praises of his blessings.

He and his wife, Thea, raised their two daughters on a farm near Veblen.

When his two granddaughters, Mahree, now 6, and Kinsey, now 3, arrived, his love shined through. He was the one who would push a swing for the 100th time or walk upstairs to play.

But something was noticeably wrong with Pallansch’s voice in the fall 2013 when he sang at his youngest daughter’s wedding.

That would be the last solo he’d ever sing, his daughter Jen Nelson, 30, said.

Family members thought Pallansch’s trouble talking and singing was related to his hearing, but as his symptoms progressively got worse, testing ruled out that and other options, including a stroke, tumors and Parkinson’s disease.

The diagnosis would come a year later. Progressive bulbar palsy, a variant form of ALS or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

“ALS can start up or down,” daughter Karie Geyer, 35, explained.

ALS, a neurological disease that affects nerve cells responsible for controlling muscle movement, can begin in the arms or legs (down) or with speech and swallowing problems (up), according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders.

With Pallansch, it started in his vocal cords and lungs. And that meant it didn’t look like what most people think ALS looks like.

“He was able to walk into the hospital until the day he passed,” Geyer said.

A bout with pneumonia would lead to Pallansch’s death on Sept. 3, 2016.

“As far as the diagnosis, he handled it …” Geyer said, pausing for the right word. “Amazing,” she muttered.

The diagnosis was harder on others than on him, the sisters said.

“He was a source of comfort,” Geyer said. “And we all just adjusted with every loss — his voice, ability to eat, and so on.”

They knew ALS was terminal.

“The scary thing about the disease is the not knowing,” Nelson said. “You know the end game but not how it’s going to get there.”

Still, Pallansch didn’t let it slow him down. He hunted, remained an active member of the community and continued to love his family, including his grandchildren, the way only he could.

New life

Birthdays will always be extra special for the sisters.

Nelson shared a birthday with her father.

And that day — Nov. 17 — would be the day Geyer would go into labor with her second child.

Call it a late birthday present, if you will. But baby Geyer wouldn’t be the only one making an appearance that day.

Nelson and Geyer both learned they were pregnant about six months after their dad died in 2016. Neither had discussed having a second child.

“It just happened a little earlier than we thought it was going to,” Nelson said.

As did the births.

After initial doctor visits, it was learned that Geyer was due on Nov. 23 and Nelson on Nov. 27.

“So we knew it was close,” Nelson said.

The boys had their own plan, however.

Raymond John Geyer was born at 5:23 a.m. Nov. 18.

Eager to meet her nephew, Nelson, her mother and the girls left the family farm for Aberdeen that morning.

And then things got even more exciting.

Nelson, too, began having contractions.

“We get a half hour in and mom looks at me and says, ‘Are you OK?’” Nelson said. “And then my mom was really excited.”

Once they arrived at the hospital, Nelson checked herself in. Her husband, Matt, would give the Geyer and her husband, David, a play-by-play until he came in and said, “It’s a buck.”

Hunter John Nelson was born at 4:53 p.m.

A grandfather’s legacy

The reactions the sisters get about having boys on the same day are often the same.

“Did you plan this?” they ask.

“How neat,” they say.

And then there’s the sentiment that perhaps means more.

“Your dad would be proud,” they say.

As the boys grow, they might begin to show characteristics of their grandfather. Every other day is a different, Geyer said. But right now, the boys largely look like their fathers.

There are stories to tell that will ensure both boys know about their “Papa John.”

“The biggest thing with my dad is just him as a person, just stories about him as he was. His kindness, his disposition, his character. That’s all something we’ll talk to the boys about. And that we hope is in them,” Geyer said.

Although he lost his voice, Pallansch was also a fan of the written word. He’d write a lot of sticky notes, the sisters said.

One in particular mimics his character.

It reads, “In the end, it’s kindness that counts.”

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About the families

• Hunter John was born to Jen and Matt Nelson, as well as big sister Kinsey, at 4:53 p.m. Nov. 18.

• Raymond John was born to Karie and David Geyer, as well as big sister Mahree, at 5:23 p.m. Nov. 18.

• The boys share a middle name after their late grandfather, John Pallansch, who died in 2016 after being diagnosed with ALS.