Life was looking up for Diane Aulger. Her husband had just returned from the doctor saying he was cancer-free, she was expected to give birth to a daughter in a few weeks, and it was Christmastime.
A home video from Christmas 2011, showed Diane distributing presents to her four children while being serenated by her husband, Mark, on the guitar. Happy her family was back together and expecting a daughter, she believed 2012 was going to be a great year.
Unfortunately, the happiness was short-lived and Mark, age 52, was admitted to the hospital on January 3 because of breathing difficulties. It seemed the chemotherapy from his cancer treatments had caused pulmonary fibrosis.
He had been diagnosed with colon cancer and had surgery to remove the tumor. The chemotherapy which followed was done as a precaution in order to prevent the cancer from returning.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a scarring of the lung tissue making breathing difficult and transfer of oxygen from lungs to blood much less efficient. Diane succinctly described it was as if Mark’s “lungs were soaked in concrete.”
Unable to breathe and attached to oxygen machines, he was given only a few weeks to live. “We thought he could get on steroid treatment and oxygen and live for years,” Diane said.
However, doctors told Mark on January 16, his lungs had deteriorated so badly he may have only a week left to live. Understandably, it was extremely difficult news to learn.
At first, Diane admitted she did not believe what the doctor was telling her, because Mark was awake and alert — he did not appear to be on his deathbed. But when the doctor came in the next day and asked, “When are you going to have this baby?” she knew it was true.
Their daughter was due on January 29, and Diane had planned on having a natural childbirth. But when Mark said, “I’d like to see the baby,” she went along with the doctor’s suggestion to induce a little earlier. The new birth date was scheduled for January 18.
Hospital staff was very accommodating and arranged for Diane to have a larger labor and delivery room so that Mark’s bed could fit in the room as well. With their beds side by side, Diane gave birth to Savannah.
He held her for 45 minutes immediately after she was born, and the family shared emotional moment after emotional moment amid the many wires, tubes, and lines connected to Mark. But over the next few days, Mark was only able to muster the strength to hold her for a few minutes at a time, and on January 21, Mark slipped into a coma.
“If she cried, he would shake his head and moan. I put her on him when he was in the coma a few times and his hand would move toward her,” said Diane.
Forty-eight hours after entering his coma, Mark died on January 23, with his family by his side. Watching as his breathing and heart rate slowly dropped, Diane placed Savannah in his arms as he died and the monitor went flat.
In addition to Savannah, the Aulger’s have two other children, ages 7 and 10, plus 13 and 15-year-old children Diane had from a previous marriage. It has been difficult for the family to live without their husband and father, but Diane says people have been very generous and compassionate to them.
Mark will not be able to celebrate Savannah’s graduation from high school, or even witness her first birthday. But the video of him saying, “Hello, Savannah” through all the tubes after her delivery is enough to portray just how deeply he did care about her. When she is old enough and sees that, she will know.
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