Sam Klitz has simple hopes for her 6-year-old son, Ezra Houska.
The boy will never run, play or ride a bike like his four siblings. He won’t drive a car or have a job as he grows older.
She mostly hopes he stays happy.
“I would like to keep seeing him smile all the time,” Klitz said.
In 2013, her then-three month old baby suffered a severe brain injury when he was violently shaken by his biological father, Robert Duckstad, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence on felony child abuse charges.
“He was a completely healthy, normal kid… but he (Duckstad) took away Ezra’s life,” Klitz said.
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Her son suffers from frequent seizures and has a permanent shunt in his brain to relieve pressure. He’s not able to swallow food, so is fed through a tube. The boy is also non-verbal and can walk only short distances, with assistance.
Now a first grader at Brooks Harbor Elementary in West Fargo, Ezra has outgrown his adaptive wheelchair almost two years prior to the date that insurance will cover a new one.
“He was in the third percentile. Now he's in the 80th percentile for weight,” Klitz said.
Ezra will soon need a larger wheelchair and accessible van with a lift mechanism to get around.
A benefit to help the family cover those expenses will be held at North Dakota Elite Cheer and Dance from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23.
The event will include carnival games, a bake sale and silent auction, with free-will donations accepted at the door.
A young life, forever changed
Klitz was engaged to Duckstad and living in Grand Forks when her son’s life was forever changed.
Duckstad was working overnights, while Klitz worked during the day. She said he would play video games instead of resting while the baby slept.
According to a police complaint, Duckstad came home from work on June 13, 2013, feeling “tired, frustrated and stressed.”
He tried to change his son’s diaper, but the boy was being fussy.
Investigators said Duckstad told them he shook his son once, but the boy kept crying. Duckstad shook him two more times and the crying stopped.
When she saw her son a few hours later, Klitz knew something was “off.”
She first made a doctor appointment, then decided to bring him straight to a hospital.
She was in disbelief when told her baby had been shaken.
Ezra was flown to the Twin Cities, where doctors said he might not survive.
“They did say if I had waited to bring him to his appointment the next day, he would have died at my house,” Klitz said.
Tests also revealed “old blood and new blood” in Ezra’s brain, she said, indicating he had been shaken on separate, multiple occasions.
A happy boy
Klitz has since married and had two more children. Along with caring for Ezra, she and husband Matt Klitz are raising Bentley, 9, Tatumina, 7, Klaus, 2, and Amara, 11 months.
Though she remains outwardly positive, she admits feeling anger toward Duckstad, who comes up for early parole in 2026.
“He doesn't worry the way me and my husband do . . . I'm not gonna lie, there's times where I’m really bitter,” Klitz said.
Ezra recently had surgery to implant a vagus nerve stimulator — a pacemaker-like device used to treat seizures when medication is not effective.
Despite his many disabilities, Ezra is a happy child who enjoys being around his siblings, classmates and in other social settings.
Tanya Wigestrand, a licensed practical nurse hired to work full-time with Ezra at school, said he’s always excited for the day.
“It's just a very positive experience all around from beginning to end,” she said.
Ezra receives physical, occupational and speech therapy several times a week. Wigestrand wants him to be able to walk 150 feet, and she’s confident he’ll do it.
Klitz has straightforward advice for all parents.
“Don't shake your kids. If you get frustrated, you put them in a safe environment and then you walk away,” she said.
In addition to the benefit event, donations are being accepted through the Lend A Hand Up charitable program, which is providing $5,000 in boost funding. To learn more or to make an online gift, go to the Lend A Hand Up website.
Cash/check gifts payable to the Ezra Houska Benefit Fund may be directed to Gate City Bank, 837 31st Ave East, West Fargo, ND, 58078.
If you go:
What: Ezra Houska Benefit, including carnival games, bake sale and silent auction
Where: ND Elite Cheer and Dance, 758 34th St. N., Suite K, Fargo
When: 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23