Stacie Crimm didn’t get to share much time with her infant daughter, Dottie Mae — she’d made the ultimate sacrifice to give the little girl life.
Crimm, a 41-year-old single mother, received the grim diagnosis of terminal head and neck cancer just months after her little girl was conceived. She opted to skip chemotherapy to protect her growing fetus.
Crimm survived long enough for the baby to be delivered. But shortly after holding her daughter for the first time, the Oklahoma woman slipped into a coma and died.
Crimm’s brother remembers the bittersweet moment when his sister held her child.“I felt like it was probably the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in my life,” Ray Phillips told Matt Lauer on TODAY Thursday. “I don’t think I’ll ever see anything that beautiful again.”
Jubilation, then heartbreak
Crimm never thought she’d have a child. Doctors had told her she wouldn’t be able to conceive. So it was a glorious shock when she discovered she was pregnant.
She immediately called her brother to share the happy news. “It took her by total surprise,” Phillips told NBC News’ Janet Shamlian in a report that aired before the live TODAY interview. “She was petrified and happy and just … beside herself.”
But the jubilation was short-lived. Crimm began to experience terrifying symptoms: crippling headaches, tunnel vision and tremors that shook her entire body. She went to the doctor and got the devastating diagnosis: head and neck cancer.
“She called me crying,” Phillips remembers. “She would say, ‘I’m not going to live long enough to have this baby.’ ”
Crimm had a chance at survival — if she chose to undergo chemotherapy. But that might have put her growing fetus in danger.
She called her brother to let him know that she’d decided that the risk to her daughter was too great.“She said, ‘If I have to make a decision, you know what that’s going to be,’ ” Phillips said. “ ‘Don’t even ask. I’ve lived my life.’ ”
Phillips told Lauer he didn’t even try to dissuade his sister: “Her mind was made up. It was pretty cut and dried.”
A mother’s embrace
Crimm did her best to hang on so her little girl would have life. But the cancer was aggressive, and in August, Crimm collapsed in her home. She was rushed to the hospital, where doctors performed a C-section to deliver her little girl — 10 weeks premature and weighing just 2 pounds.
The baby was sent to the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, in a different building from where Crimm. NICU nurses couldn’t imagine that a mother who had given so much would never have a chance to see and hold her baby.They put little Dottie Mae in an incubator and wheeled her over to the unit where her mother lay dying.
“It was just one of those things you know you have to do,” one nurse later recalled.
They placed the little girl on her mother’s chest. Crimm watched her daughter for a few seconds and then she “lifted up her hands and just held her and just looked at her and smiled,” Phillips said.
Crimm died three days later.
Dottie Mae is now living with Ray Phillips, his wife Jennifer, and their six children, just as Crimm requested. She didn’t have many special instructions on how she wanted her daughter to be raised, but she did have big plans for her little girl.
“She said, ‘I hope this little girl grows up beautiful so we can put her in pageants,’ ” Phillips told Lauer.
When Dottie Mae grows up, how will Phillips explain Crimm’s ultimate sacrifice?
“I don’t think I’ll have to tell her anything,” he told Lauer. “I think she’ll kind of figure it out on her own.”
Linda Carroll is a regular contributor to msnbc.com and TODAY.com. She is co-author of the new book "The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic”