I, Claudia: Use these tips to prevent a nightmare incident

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Our family just returned from a wonderful vacation in Wisconsin Dells.

Thank goodness this time we all stayed together.

The last time we traveled, a serious situation occurred.

“I need to make you aware of an incident,’’said my husband Don. He was remarkably calm standing at the kitchen sink of our villa, rinsing dishes from just having fed our daughter's Rhonda-Rene (4) and Donae (7) breakfast.

It was the last morning of our three day vacation in Starved Rock, a state park in Utica.

“An incident?” I said in my groggy, just-woke-up voice.

It was a little after 8:30 a.m. I was grateful to have slept in. It was my only request prior to falling asleep the night before. After all, it was my birthday weekend; the ability to sleep in was a priceless gift. That must have been why he allowed me to remain in my slumber while he lived a real-time nightmare.

He spoke quietly with intensity in his eyes saying, “The girls came into our room about 7:00 a.m. but I hushed them out, not wanting them to wake you.”


He sighed expressing, “I got up immediately. I told them I'd be right in their room, but I stopped to use the restroom first. When I walked in their bedroom, I didn't see Rhonda-Rene.”

 Rhonda-Rene has special needs. She’s primarily non-verbal with high sensory needs; it’s common for her to actively explore her surroundings. That's why we chose to stay in a villa as oppose to a regular hotel room. Her needs require extra space. We were in an 1,800 square foot, two-story villa built in a beautiful wooded setting. It had two fireplaces, a living room, kitchen and dining area, two bedrooms, two baths, a patio, full-size washer and dryer and two balconies with amazing views of the woods.

I stared at Don intensely.

As his story unfolded, my heart began to accelerate.

He said, “I asked Donae where Rhonda-Rene was and she shrugged, 'I thought she was with you. Maybe downstairs?' So, I looked downstairs and she wasn't there either. That's when I noticed the front door opened. I went outside and yelled for her but I still didn't see her.’’


At this point, I was beginning to grasp the severity of the situation. My eyes widen. I could hear the tumble of the dryer tossing articles of clothing as Don explained further.

“I yelled for her a few more times and she finally emerged. She was behind those tall, Evergreens trees, way over there, through that field,” he said.

He was pointing toward the opposite side of our location. She had been on a winding road, nearly a city block away. He said he raced over, scooping her into his arms and squeezing her in relief. It was a soggy October morning; the pavement was damp from the dew which had also saturated Rhonda-Rene's socks and bottoms of her pajamas. That's why the dryer was tumbling, Don had gotten her dressed, washed her pj's and set them to dry before I had even awoke.

My refueling was short-lived. It'd be nearly a week before I slept soundly again. I was haunted by various “what if’’scenarios that tortured me like demons for having slept through what could have resulted in tragedy.

The younger version of me would have allowed guilt to creep in. However, the person I am today acknowledges life is a classroom, meant to educate. I prayed for God to reveal the lesson He wanted me to teach others through our experience and the unspoken word I heard in my heart was, “prevention!’’

Here are the things we're doing to prevent Rhonda-Rene's incident from reoccurring. Hopefully, these suggestions will be of help to your family as well.

$11.       Travel with a mobile alarm system- For our own piece of mind, we now travel with battery operated, door/window entry alarm sensors that chime when ajar. There are several brands. They usually come in packs of two or four. Unless you've visited the hotel or resort you're vacationing to, it's unlikely to know what type of security their units offer. I suggest calling ahead. This particular villa didn't have a top latch or chain on the door. With one downward thrust, our daughter was outside.

    1. Travel with a child tracker-these are small devices that attach to the child's clothing while the parent or caregiver maintains control of a hand held activator. In the event the child wanders away, the adult presses the button on the activator emitting a beeping sound until the child is found. The radius on these devices are usually up to 100 feet. Don was hoping for something more permanent, like a GPS device implanted under the skin but no one offers that yet.
    2. Medical alert bracelet- because Rhonda-Rene is experiencing developmental delays as well as a speech impairment called, Apraxia, her ability to communicate is compromised. Therefore, as an added layer of protection she now wears a custom medical alert bracelet at all times.

When I asked Don why he didn't wake me immediately upon learning Rhonda-Rene was missing. He said, “I didn't want to alarm you. I felt I had the situation under control once I found her.”

 My faith tells me it was our Heavenly father who protected Rhonda-Rene until her earthly father found her.