After mother’s death, community supports baby Ruby
Posted: Monday, February 7, 2011 8:01 pm
KNOXVILLE (AP) — The first time he saw his new baby daughter on Dec. 22, Dan Coker felt a sharp stab of fear: It looked like the umbilical cord was wound around her.
But then the cord was lifted up and off baby Ruby Evelyn, and Dan felt his heart swell. Not long after, he posed for pictures with Ruby, red and swaddled, in the arms of her mother, Dan’s bride, Kristin. Between them was Kristin’s 6-year-old son, Jeremiah, whom Dan planned to adopt.
Their joy was radiant. Dan had the family he’d always hoped for.
There was so much to look forward to: going home, Christmas, a ribbon of future days unfurling in their minds. Kristin’s delivery had been smooth, her pregnancy uncomplicated.
Nothing could have prepared the family for the journey they’d face two weeks ahead, from overwhelming happiness to staggering grief.
Dan, 38, met Kristin, 29, in November 2009. She was assistant manager at a Weigel’s convenience store where he stopped almost daily on his way to work at UPS. Before long, he was stopping less for coffee than to see her smile.
“Her smile, her honesty, her toughness” attracted him, Dan said. Six years earlier, Kristin had extricated herself from an abusive relationship, leaving with “a baby and a backpack,” Dan said. She’d recently moved to Knoxville from her home state of Michigan. She loved music, dancing, animals of all kinds. She carried her faith like a shield and paired it with a positive attitude.
They married last spring. Dan’s parents, John and Evelyn Coker, and his sister, Cindy Knight, embraced Kristin and Jeremiah. Kristin and Cindy became best friends; weeks before Ruby was born, Kristin helped plan a surprise birthday party for her sister-in-law. “She became like our own daughter,” Evelyn said. “We just loved her.”
When the couple learned Kristin was pregnant, “we were thrilled,” Dan said. Kristin busied herself readying the nursery. They decided to name their baby girl Ruby, a name Kristin and Dan’s late grandmothers shared.
Kristin sailed through pregnancy and gave birth at Mercy St. Mary’s Medical Center in time to come home for Christmas. Though Dan said she had a headache, “she never said she wasn’t feeling OK,” Evelyn said.
The holidays were anything but easy for the Cokers. Evelyn, a breast cancer survivor who’d had her lymph nodes removed, got a nasty infection from a cat scratch and ended up in the hospital for five days. On New Year’s Eve, Cindy fell and broke her leg and was hospitalized for surgery.
It was about that time that Dan convinced his “bullheaded” wife that the bad headaches that came and went and the sudden tightness in her chest might be serious. He drove her to the Women’s Pavilion at St. Mary’s, where she was admitted. When a CAT scan showed bleeding on her brain, she was transferred to University of Tennessee Medical Center.
She spent two days in the critical-care unit before being moved to a regular patient room. Once there, however, she had several seizures, Dan said. Intending to put a drain in her head, medical staff induced a coma. Kristin never awoke. She was declared brain-dead. She died Jan. 6, after donating her organs.
“The doctor called and told us she saved six lives,” Dan said. “That would have made her proud.”
Suddenly, Dan found himself a single parent – a first-time parent – to a 2-week-old baby. Bereft over losing his best friend and soulmate, he was also at a loss. He worked nights at UPS; they’d planned for Kristin to stay home with the children.
Evelyn and John, themselves mourning, stepped in to care for Ruby, allowing Dan time with his grief. The days immediately after were a haze. Snow and ice delayed the funeral arrangements. Kristin’s father and stepmother came from Michigan to take Jeremiah back with them, promising frequent visits.
The family’s story shot across the Internet, with Facebook posts, blog entries, pleas for help in the face of tragedy. John and Evelyn’s living room began to fill up with bottles, formula, diapers and other gifts, most from “people we don’t even know,” John said.
Melissa Cox, who writes the money-saving blog Frugalissa Finds (http://www.frugalissafinds.com), volunteered to collect and deliver items to the Cokers, whom she’d never met. By her first trip to their house, she had “the back of my minivan full” and a company’s promise to donate a year’s supply of diapers for Ruby. Cox solicited gifts for Jeremiah, so he wouldn’t feel left out, cards of encouragement for Dan.
People donated clothes, toys, a changing table. The photographer who took Dan and Kristin’s wedding pictures volunteered to take photos of Ruby and Jeremiah together before Jeremiah’s move. Packages arrived from Texas, California, Ohio, Michigan, from UPS drivers in New Mexico. UPS offered support, as did Dan’s union, Teamsters Local 519, and the family’s church.
“The variety of ways people have done things for us is just amazing,” Dan said. “We’re grateful for everybody. I would have never thought people could be that kind.”
One night, looking for solace, Dan flipped through Kristin’s well-worn Bible. Highlighted in pink, rather than her usual yellow, was John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
In the margin, Kristin had written: “Help is on the way.”
Kristin suffered from eclampsia, a postpartum condition marked by high blood pressure, protein in the urine and, in more serious cases, seizures or strokes. It’s relatively uncommon, affecting about one in 2,000 women in the United States, said obstetrician Dr. Bobby Howard, chairman of maternal and fetal medicine at UT Medical Center.
More common is preeclampsia, which happens during pregnancy and affects about 5 percent to 7 percent of U.S. women overall. There’s no known cure for either, although delivering the baby often cures preeclampsia. Around 15 percent of women who had preeclampsia will have it with a subsequent birth. It’s also thought to have a genetic factor, to run in families.
Yet “it’s possible that a patient could have an entirely uncomplicated pregnancy up until term, and then have a rise in blood pressure,” Howard said, with no risk factors. It would be much more rare, though possible, for a patient to present with eclampsia two weeks after birth, as Kristin did, Howard said.
Severe headaches can be a symptom, as can racing heartbeat or increased swelling in the face and extremities. Sometimes women with eclampsia have no symptoms, or just a general feeling something is wrong.
Kristin was always healthy, Dan said – and stubborn. He doesn’t think it ever occurred to her that she could be seriously ill.
Ruby “is a really good baby,” said Evelyn. She eats well; she rarely cries. That’s a relief to her grandparents who, in their 60s, are getting used to the routine of night-waking and round-the-clock feedings.
Dan plans to take Ruby home with him, to the nursery her mother lovingly created, once he figures out the logistics of working and raising a baby. Though it’s hard now, he can see a future of playing sports with his daughter, riding horses together. He plans frequent visits with Jeremiah, to whom he talks several times a week.
But it’s a sure bet that his parents and sisters will be involved in Ruby’s upbringing.
As will Kristin.
“She won’t ever know her, but she’ll know all about her,” John said.
“She’s going to grow up knowing all about her mother,” Dan said, “how strong she was, how proud of her she was.”
He can feel Kristin’s strength in Ruby’s solid grip on his finger. He sees Kristin’s eyes, her smile, in Ruby’s face.
“He’s always going to have part of Kristin in here,” Evelyn said, patting Ruby.
Published in The Messenger 2.7.11