It's been said that tragedy can strike when you least expect it and a person is not defined by it, but rather by how they react to the pressure.
If this is true, Kristen (Galloway) and Al Simmons are rock-solid soldiers, although their battle is far from over.
The couple from Bemus Point recently had a daughter, Sydney, who entered the world five weeks early. She spent some time in a specialized care unit but is now doing much better.
Her mother however, had a more complicated set of circumstances fall into her lap.
It's called HELLP Syndrome, which is a unique variant of preeclampsia, or toxemia as it is also known, and it can be deadly for a mother and her baby.
NO FIREWORKS THIS YEAR
On the Fourth of July, while many people were enjoying the highlight of summer in the region, the Simmons family was presented with a scary set of circumstances.
"Kristen had symptoms of preeclampsia, but we didn't recognize it at first," her husband said. "On the Fourth (of July) she started having these terrible pains. Our doctor was in Erie, Pa., but when I asked her if she could make it there, she said she felt like she was dying."
The couple rushed to WCA Hospital where they learned that since it was a Saturday, they couldn't get her medical records until Monday- a huge problem considering the dangerous nature of preeclampsia.
"Luckily we knew just about everything the doctors had told us along the way, so we were able to relay that at WCA," Al said. "That made a big difference, but nothing was easy and the whole ordeal was one of the worst things we've ever been through."
Kristen's blood pressure was through the roof- 240 over 120 as Al recalled.
"They thought the machine was broken and went to get another one. It said the same thing and the nurses were stunned," he said. "When the doctor came in a few hours later, he told me that she should have been in a coma with those numbers."
She was still alert however, and with the baby's vitals steadily dropping, they decided the baby had to be born immediately - five weeks early.
A BAD SITUATION GETS WORSE
On July 5, their daughter Sydney was born through a Caesarean section, although she didn't have a heartbeat. Kristen was losing a lot of blood on the operation table and Al was waiting with her parents outside the department - waiting for good news.
It never came.
He said he was told that Sydney wasn't doing well, although she was resuscitated, and his wife was probably not going to make it.
The doctor and the nurses ended up giving her blood however, and while the baby was transferred to the Saint Vincent Health Center in Erie, Pa., Kristen was somewhat stabilized.
She wasn't doing well and her kidneys started to fail. The outlook was grim, as Al was told several times. Around 4 a.m., she was taken to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center by Starflight.
Al drove to Pittsburgh to be with her and once they arrived, the couple received a mixed basket of news.
They learned that she needed a liver, but that his insurance would only pay its part if she went to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. The problem was, Al said, that the doctors told him that she likely wouldn't make it through the journey.
"Across the street, there was a specialized care unit that was known for these kinds of transplants, but they wanted her to go to Cleveland," he said. "After fighting with the insurance company about my wife's life, she was finally sent across the street and the doctor told me that he would take care of her medically and all I needed to do now was to take care of her like a husband."
A GLIMMER OF LIGHT IN A DARK TUNNEL
Across the street at the Magee-Women's Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Kristen's situation began to turn around, although the battle was far from over.
After screening several liver donors, the doctors found a compatible one. A young person who died in a car accident was an organ donor - and he saved Kristen's life.
A couple weeks later, her kidneys started working again and she was granted a second chance at life with her family. She isn't out of the woods yet, as she has had to return to the hospital several times since being initially discharged.
The couple is living at a pay-by-the-month hotel in Pittsburgh right now to be close to Kristen's doctor. Their daughter Sydney is living with grandparents in Chautauqua County, although they all get together in Pittsburgh as often as possible.
In addition to issues with the insurance company paying for things the Simmons are supposedly covered for, the couple is also facing another challenge.
If Al doesn't return to work sometime soon, where the job requires him to be away for six weeks at a time, they may be responsible for repaying the insurance premiums which have already been covered.
A family friend, Todd Lawson, is among the many people in the family's support group who are trying to do anything they can to assist them.
"Kristen had been released from the hospital, but she has some serious medical problems," said Lawson, who is also helping to organize a charity golf tournament to help the Simmons. "The first time she was released, her body began to reject the liver and she had to go back into the ICU. She is back on her meds now, but they have to fight the insurance company every step of the way. It's too bad that you pay all this money into the system when you're healthy, and once something happens, they don't want to take care of you."
Lawson explained that by helping to organize the HELLP Syndrome Golf Tournament, he hopes it will raise money to help the family through this trying time, and smooth out some of the financial potholes that anyone in their shoes would be hitting right about now.
"That's the big thing to be said of this area - when someone is in need, people help out without hesitating," Lawson said. "They aren't the kind of people to ask for help so it isn't easy for them to receive it. But I told Al that this is a big issue and they should take all the help they can get."
Al explained that they don't want anyone else to have to go through what they did, and one way they can ensure that is by raising awareness about preeclampsia and HELLP Syndrome.
"We really want people to know more about this condition because it can be overlooked and the story doesn't always end well," he said. "Right now, Kristen is taking about 60 pills a day just to survive and we just wake up every morning hoping that today is a little better than the last."
HOW TO HELP
The HELLP Syndrome Golf Tournament to benefit Kristen and Al Simmons still needs players and sponsors and donations are being accepted at any level.
The event will take place on Sat. Sept. 26, at Woodcrest Golf Course, located at 3583 Wall Street Road in Stedman, although the course has a Mayville mailing address. The cost for a four-person team is $240 and registration begins that day at 8:30 a.m. with the tournament starting at 10 a.m.
There will be prizes awarded depending on how you place as well as hole prizes. A chicken BBQ dinner is included in the price and will follow the golfing, so Lawson would like people to RSVP as soon as possible so they have an accurate count.
For more information, contact Shawn and Laurie Gorgan at 484-8317 or by e-mail at email@example.com, or Todd and Cherri Lawson at 985-5787 or Jessica Turzillo at 969-9583.
An account has also been established at local HSBC Bank branches where people can donate directly to the family. Checks and money orders can be made out to Kristen Simmons in care of Bill Bush, who is an HSBC employee.
At many local stores and restaurants, labeled containers are present on the counter where people can also donate money to the family.
"One day everything is perfect, everyone is healthy and happy and then it all changes overnight," Al said. "I'm a military veteran, I've been to Iraq and I've seen a lot of tragedy, but I've never been through anything like this. We are so thankful to have all the help people are offering right now - it means more to us that we even have words for."