For Steve Ullmer and his family, March 16, 2017, had been a fun day at his mom’s house. But by the end of that night, tragedy struck. At around midnight, Steve awoke to hear his 36-year-old wife Wendy breathing oddly, respirations that would be her last. Later, he described his nightmarish event in shocking detail.
Steve, 38, met his future wife, Wendy, while the two were students at Menasha High School. At the time, their relationship was your standard teenage pairing, Steve wrote on a blog he dedicated to her. “We were mainly focused on each other and our social life in high school,” he recalled.
Little did Steve know that their relationship would stand the test of time and distance, as he left to study at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. At that point, Wendy was still in high school, but despite the distance, the pair stayed together.
“I’m still not sure how our relationship survived those days,” Steve wrote on the website Love What Matters. “She loved me despite myself, despite the pain I caused her. She taught me what unconditional love meant.”
Steve then revealed that he had struggled with both alcohol and drugs, a period in which he “nearly destroyed [his] life.” But Wendy remained steadfast until he realized the error in his ways, found strength in his religion and asked her to be his wife shortly thereafter.
So, according to Steve’s blog, he presented Wendy with a two-part proposal. Not only did he ask for her hand, but he also hoped she would forgive him for his past transgressions as they moved forward together. To his relief, she said “yes” to both questions in March 2003.
A year later Steve and Wendy tied the knot, and began building a family together. They welcomed sons Liam in 2006, Jack the following year, and Silas in 2009. The couple brought their fourth son, Judah, into the world in 2014.
By 2017 things were looking up for Steve, Wendy and the kids, who were living in their hometown of Sherwood, Wisconsin. Writing in his blog post, Steve said, “Life was good, life was… comfortable. Our marriage was strong, far from perfect, but never better. We’d been blessed with four amazing kids.”
Steve added, “Wendy was a healthy, vibrant 36-year-old in the prime of her life. We had just moved to a new house and it felt like we were starting a new chapter in life, a chapter I was eager to see unfold.”
But on the evening of March 16, 2017, Steve and Wendy’s love story would come to a sudden, shocking end. The family had spent the day with Steve’s mom, and he didn’t notice anything strange about Wendy’s demeanor. “There were no warning signs or anything out of the ordinary,” he wrote.
In fact, Steve had actually gone to bed earlier than his wife and drifted off an hour before she did. “I was sleeping next to my wife, seemingly just like any of the thousands of nights we have spent together over the years,” he wrote on his dedication blog. But, for some reason, he awoke in the middle of the night.
Steve recalled, “I looked over at [Wendy] and she was lying peacefully with her head on the pillow and her hair was spread out across it.” But, he said, her breathing “didn’t sound right.”
Things got much worse when Steve tried to wake Wendy up. Calm at first, he gave her a nudge and called her name. “There was no response,” he said. “The pauses between her breaths grew unnaturally long, and sounded more and more like a gasp.”
With that, Steve knew Wendy was in serious trouble. “I started to shake her, screaming her name, but she would not wake up. My heart pounded out of my chest, my mind raced, I was gripped with fear. I grabbed my phone and dialled 911 for the first time in my life,” he continued.
As Steve waited for first responders, he performed CPR to try and help save Wendy’s life. Help soon arrived. “Sheriffs, EMTs, [and] a whole team of strangers in my bedroom [were] doing everything they could to save her,” Steve wrote. And they were, eventually, successful at restarting Wendy’s heart when she reached the hospital.
But that flicker of hope would last only a few hours – Wendy never woke back up. Instead, at around 9:40 am, Wendy’s heart stopped. Steve described the horrifying moment. “I heard ‘Code Blue’ announced… and every doctor and nurse in the area packed into her room as they tried everything they could to revive her. I stood in the room with them while they worked on her lifeless body, as a machine violently compressed her chest over and over,” he wrote.
But Wendy’s doctors couldn’t do anything to bring her back, and Steve said it appeared they were “pleading with their eyes for [him] to give the word and let them stop.” He finally uttered the words, “It’s enough,” and that was it. “The room went quiet. All intervention ceased,” Steve wrote.
Steve’s dad then drove him home, and he looked down on his phone while in the car. He’d received a text message from his 11-year-old son, Liam, who had no idea what just happened. “Is mom okay?” he asked. And, with that, Steve recalled that he “wept uncontrollably.” He knew he’d have to go home and “break their hearts, all of [his] boys, they would never be the same.”
An autopsy later confirmed Wendy had undiagnosed cardiac sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that causes blood cells to cluster within heart tissue. Although utterly heartbroken, Steve told People that he had found some peace after her passing. “I’m thankful for the years I had with her,” he said.
As Wendy’s story spread, Steve received condolences from all over. One message in particular struck his attention, from a woman called Erin Stoffel. She had lost her husband and daughter in a 2015 shooting in Chicago. Steve and Erin began exchanging messages and leaning on one another. They eventually fell in love. And by 2018, they were married and living as a blended family of eight, never forgetting their pasts but forging ahead into a new future together.