WYOMING, MICH. - Carrie DeKlyen sacrificed her life to save her daughter.
It was a decision the 37-year-old mother from Wyoming, Mich., made in May, when she was still conscious but very sick with terminal brain cancer.
Chemotherapy or a clinical trial would almost certainly prolong her life. But both options would mean terminating her pregnancy.
On Wednesday evening, DeKlyen delivered a baby girl named Life. On Thursday morning, doctors removed DeKlyen's feeding and breathing tubes. Family members gathered at the University of Michigan Hospitals to welcome a new life and say painful good-byes.
As DeKlyen slipped away, her husband, Nick, said he knows they made the right choice.
"She chose to have the baby. That’s what she wanted, and I supported her," he said. "She had the baby, and now it's time to go home. She's going to heaven. She's going to be healed."
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Carrie and Nick picked out the name Life after the birth of their 2-year-old son. They were talking casually one day about what they might name their next child — their sixth — if they decided to expand their family.
That was before Carrie DeKlyen knew she was sick. And before she knew she was pregnant.
The headaches started in March.
"You think you are going in (to the doctor) for migraine headaches," Nick DeKlyen said. "The doctors came back and said, 'You have a mass on your brain, but it doesn't look like cancer.'"
Things turned grim in the operating room at the local hospital. It turned out the mass was cancer, doctors said, though they thought it was lymphoma. They removed what they could.
Pathology tests revealed later that it was actually a glioblastoma, a malignant tumor that's notoriously tough to treat.
DeKlyen was referred to U-M. She qualified for a promising clinical trial that doctors said could prolong her life 10 or 15 years, or even longer.
On May 9, doctors drew blood and performed an MRI. Two days later, the hospital called — the tumor was growing, and DeKlyen was pregnant.
DeKlyen's physician told her she could not join the clinical trial if she was pregnant. Chemotherapy would be risky to the fetus.
"Me and my wife, we are people of faith," Nick DeKlyen said. "We love the Lord with everything in us. We talked about it, prayed about it.
"I asked her, 'What are you thinking?' She said, 'All the treatments, I'm not doing any of them.' We went back to the surgeon. He said 'If you choose to do this, you will not live another 10 months. I promise, you will die.'
"Even with everything on the table, my wife chose the baby."
The couple felt at peace.
"We’re pro-life," Nick DeKlyen said. "Under no circumstance do we believe you should take a child’s life. She sacrificed her life for the child."
After a second surgery to remove more of the tumor, they went back home to their five children, ranging in age from 2 to 18. Nick sold his share of a vending business to care for his wife. With no income, the family has gotten by through money raised from the "Cure 4 Carrie" GoFundMe page.
In the middle of June, DeKlyen started feeling sick again with headaches so terrible they made her throw up. Doctors inserted a catheter to relieve fluid on her brain.
A week later she was back in the hospital at 19 weeks pregnant. She lost consciousness while in the emergency room.
Doctors said there was no hope for her — but that they may be able to save her baby.
DeKlyen was put on devices to feed her and help her breathe until the baby grew to a weight where she could be safely delivered.
Ultrasounds showed the fetus growing slowly. During an ultrasound this week, she had a heartbeat but wasn't moving. The good news was she weighed 625 grams, above a 500-gram minimum doctors had been waiting for.
Nick told the doctors to go ahead with a C-section.
Baby Life Lynn was born late Wednesday afternoon at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, at 24 weeks and five days. She weighed 1 pound, 4 ounces. She has her mother's middle name.
"The baby is doing better than anyone expected," Nick DeKlyen said Thursday afternoon. "She is healthy, and she's almost breathing on her own."
After Life's birth, Nick OK'd the doctors removing Carrie's life-support devices. The couple's three oldest children — Elijah, 18, Isaiah, 16, and Nevaeh, 11 — spent Thursday sitting with their mom in what was expected to be her final moments.
"The last few days have been super hard. There's a lot of pain," Nick DeKlyen said.
Nick and Carrie have been married for 17 years. They met at church, when she was 10 and he was 12.
DeKlyen had an overwhelmingly loving and generous spirit, her husband said. The stay-at-home mom cooked dinner for neighbors and went out of her way to help those in need.
Most of the couple's extended family supported the decision to not treat the cancer.
"I want people to know she gave of herself for everybody. In her last days, she gave of herself for her own child," said Nick's sister, Sonya Nelson of Wyoming. "We are proud of her."
Nick said because of how Carrie lived her life, and the sacrifice she made in death, he knows they will be reunited.
"This life is so quick," he said. "I’m 39. It feels like I’ve blinked; I don’t even know where my life went. Before I know it, I’m going to be an old man. I’m going to pass away, and I’m going to see her again. I understand that. That gives me peace."
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