Katie and Ellie

Girl sitting on a hospital bed with doctors in the backgroundHeroesofRVA KatieandEllie

We decided we were “done” having children. We were enjoying life with our three beautiful kids, David, Katie and Jacob. I started having a hard time with the decision. I couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling that our family wasn’t complete. I think my husband somehow understood that. Something changed in him, too. He was on board for baby #4. I found out in January of 2013 that I was pregnant. It was one of the happiest days of my life. Then, two months later, my brother was killed in a random act of violence. Three weeks after that, seven Marines in my husband’s unit died in a training accident.  A few days later, we lost our precious baby at 11 weeks. As if that wasn’t enough, the final blow came when my father died suddenly from a heart attack within two weeks of my miscarriage. I was in triage mode, barely able to put one foot in front of the other. I did just enough to take care of the kids, but to this day, I’m not sure how.   

HeroesofRVA KatieandEllieI gave up on having another baby. I was too fragile to risk even hoping for it. Then, right before my husband left for his fourth deployment, I found out I was pregnant. Twelve days before he left for his fifth deployment, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl — our second girl. Elizabeth Chase, “Ellie,” restored the joy that I had lost. Anyone close to me will tell you that she saved me.  

HeroesofRVA KatieandEllieIt was January 2015. Katie lost her appetite, slept a lot more, and looked pale. We assumed she was fighting off a virus, but then one Saturday evening she spiked a fever and her belly became distended. We took her to the ER. Doctors discovered that she had masses in her lungs, liver, and spleen. A few hours later, we heard the official diagnosis: T­Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. We got her into a 28 ­month clinical trial. 11 months into it, she relapsed with leukemic tumors on both of her optic nerves. We always knew that a bone marrow transplant might be in our future, so we started the process of trying to find a match for her. Our hope was to find one in our family before trying the national registry. They told us that as parents, Josh and I were a long shot. Her brothers and sister had a 25% chance. We tried not to get our hopes too high. When her doctor came in to tell us the results, I broke down: Our Ellie was a perfect match. She was actually the ONLY match.   

HeroesofRVA KatieandEllieHow can you explain what it feels like when you have to sign these consent forms, and you see the word “DEATH” as a possible outcome? When you watch them take your one baby away, in order to save your other baby? There just aren’t words for that. If there had been any other match in the national registry, we would have taken it. But there wasn’t. 

HeroesofRVA KatieandEllie

Ellie is proof that there’s a bigger story. She is living, breathing, evidence that sometimes, hope shows up disguised as heartbreak. When she’s older, I’ll probably tell her about the baby we never had. I’ll tell her stories about the uncle and grandfather she’ll never know — who left us too soon. But, more importantly, we’ll tell her about the lives she saved before she even turned two.

(Note: These photos were part of a series that ran in September 2016 for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Photographer Kristin Seward spent many hours with the families and staff whom Connor’s Heroes has come to know as we work together to help these brave children.)