"My entire family is in the ICU," said the father, as his wife went into surgery while their three babies were in the NICU.
Charlie Whitmer recalls his wife, Kathryn, calling him up and telling him these words the day after Christmas in 2017. It was at that moment that he was told they were going to have three babies become a part of their family, and the married couple were eagerly looking forward to becoming parents together.
The weeks passed by and the husband and wife were extremely excited to step into parenthood together. But things took a drastic turn when Kathryn ended up in the hospital with a severe headache after completing 27 weeks and 6 days of her pregnancy.
"I was in the waiting room … and someone came out and said, 'Your wife has a big bleed in her brain,'" Charlie told Chicago Tribune. "At that time, I didn’t know anything about what a brain bleed meant. I didn’t know what a stroke was."
Things seemed to be under control after doctors performed the required procedure. But a few days later, Kathryn's water broke and doctors had to perform a cesarean section. Her babies were taken to the NICU right after they were born while Charlie had to anxiously wait for some news. Now, it wasn't just his wife that he was rooting for, but also his three newborn babies, Bobby, J.P., and Arden. "I was in that waiting room again and thought, what the heck is going on? My entire family is in the ICU," he said. “All four of them could die."
Crying with his brother next to him, Charlie decided, "no matter what happens, if Kathryn’s alive, I can do this."
Even though the 31-year-old woke up that night after the anesthesia wore off, she experienced the same headache two days after she gave birth. The doctors took her into surgery but she never opened her eyes again after she went in.
Kathryn was unconscious and almost declared brain dead, but she was also a new mother. It was decided that her babies get to meet their mother before the inevitable. Her sons, Bobby and J.P. were placed on her chest and the next day, her daughter, Arden got a chance to spend time with her mother. Although she was unconscious, doctors noticed that tears were streaming down her face.
"I can’t explain that medically,” said Dr. Kim, Kathryn’s neurologist. She added that being unconscious and "near brain death … doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel" the presence of her little ones.
After complications from a hemorrhagic stroke, Kathryn passed away on June 8, 2018, after she "brought life and hope to five families through organ donation," according to the GoFundMe page. But for Charlie, life would never be the same again. "If I look back a year ago, my life is so different," he said.
The day after Kathryn's funeral was Father's Day, the first one where Charlie was a father himself. Devastated and grief-stricken over the loss of his wife, Charlie spent that day beside his triplets as they lay in the NICU. He was left alone to raise their babies and it was far from the life that Charlie had pictured for himself, "but my dreams changed when Kathryn passed," he admitted.
From that moment on, it was only about the triplets for the 33-year-old father, who quit his job to pour his attention on his kids. One of the biggest changes he's made to his life is trying to be more like his wife.
Not only is he honoring her memory that way, but it's also bringing out the loving and outgoing spirit in him. "She wasn’t happy unless the people around her were happy," he said. Earlier, Charlie was the social introvert while Kathryn was a natural at putting others' feelings first. But ever since Charlie has been channeling Kathryn's kindheartedness, that's been changing.
Through the immense loss that he felt over the death of his wife and the mother of his children, he believes that there is hope behind it all. And as he raises his children, he is also on the search for it. "You have to find hope, and you have to find some kind of joy," he said. "All of this happened for a reason. It’s my job to find that."
Today, as his young triplets crawl over him and giggle in daddy's arms, showered with their father's love and care, they are surrounded by photographs of their smiling mother, whose memory is still kept alive in their lives.