Tonawanda News

February 4, 2008

TONAWANDAS: Suddenly single dad

By Joyce Miles/milesj@gnnewspaper.com

When a woman in her late 30s becomes pregnant, her doctor typically is more guarded about the unborn baby’s health. Later-life pregnancies are considered high risk for a number of reasons.

One-month-old Rebecca Ripson came into the world in perfect condition.

It’s her mom who didn’t make it.

Patricia A. White, 38, died shortly after giving birth Dec. 29 at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. Last-minute complications took her life on what should have been a day of pure joy.

“She never even got to see the baby,” White’s fiancé, David Ripson Jr., said.

Throughout her pregnancy, Patty’s health apparently was not in question. She was enrolled in Children’s high risk program because the combination of her age and prior history — two miscarriages — recommended an extra-watchful eye be kept on the baby.

Patty carried Rebecca to full term without incident and was, in fact, four days overdue when her doctor recommended induced labor. Again, with older mothers, the risks to the unborn child are considered greater.

Patty checked into the hospital Dec. 28 and was given a hormone that did not help nature take its course. The next morning, she received a stronger hormone that started labor almost instantly. Within a couple hours of the medication, her water broke — and a medical crisis erupted.

Dave’s mom, Rhonda Ripson, said Patty complained of sudden, unbearable pain shortly after her water broke. Meantime, Rebecca’s heart rate was dropping from oxygen loss, so the obstetrician ordered an emergency Caesarian section.

When Rebecca was born at 2:09 p.m., a nurse reported to Dave that mother and child had come through just fine.

About a half-hour later, Dave was still in a nearby waiting room with his parents, eager to see Patty and their baby girl, when a “code blue” alert went out.

Patty’s death certificate says she died from diffused intravascular coagulopathy, a failure of the blood to clot, related to complications of placental abruption.

At some point in her labor, the placenta that connects mom and baby tore away from Patty’s uterus and she began bleeding. According to Rhonda, one of Patty’s doctors said she suffered an amniotic fluid embolism, meaning the amniotic fluid that surrounded the baby, plus fetal cells, hair and other materials, leaked into Patty’s bloodstream and brought on an allergic reaction. That’s why her blood didn’t clot. She lost so much blood so quickly, she had a heart attack.

Amniotic fluid embolism occurs once in every 86,000 pregnancies, Rhonda said.

It seems especially ironic that it happened to a couple who’d tried so hard to have a baby. Patty and Dave were together for seven years, and when decided they wanted a family of their own, Patty first had to undergo reversal of tubal ligation. Then they suffered two miscarriages, the second one when Patty was five months pregnant.

Dave now has the baby they desperately wanted, but he doesn’t have Patty.

“It seems like one heartache after another,” Rhonda said. “My son feels like he traded one for the other.”

Patty also left a 14-year-old son, Bryan, from a past marriage.

Dave, 30, has pledged to adopt him.

Since he and Patty were not married, Dave had to seek temporary legal custody of both children. The legal wrangling continues as he pursues Bryan’s adoption and establishes Rebecca’s paternity.

The suddenness with which Dave finds himself a single father of two is shocking financially as well as emotionally. Patty did not have life insurance, and it was her health insurance through work that covered Bryan.

Dave, a truck driver for Modern Disposal, has seen his policy payments skyrocket since he added Rebecca and Bryan to his health plan.

He’s also handling the mortgage payment on his and Patty’s Youngstown home alone now, while living with his parents in North Tonawanda long enough to get his bearings back. Bryan, a student in the Lewiston-Porter school district, is staying with Ripson’s uncle in Ransomville on weekdays, so his school year isn’t interrupted, then linking up with Dave in North Tonawanda on weekends.

Dave thinks he’ll end up moving his family to North Tonawanda permanently, after the school year ends, to be closer to his parents. His mom only works a couple days a week and is caring for Rebecca while he works and irons out legal matters, he said.

Rhonda also is teaching her son the fundamentals of raising a baby — feeding, bathing, diapering, mothering essentially — that he never knew and figured he’d learn from Patty.

“It’s not too cool living with your parents at 30 years old, but I need the help. I’m learning,” Dave said. “I don’t know how single moms do it. It’s tough.”

Dave says he and Bryan are doing “OK” emotionally and they don’t have any pressing material needs.

“We’re eventually gonna be fine,” he said.

Rhonda says her son is being reluctant to ask for help. He’s overwhelmed by the expenses of parenting and baby care, she said, and could use “everything” from diapers and formula to infant clothing and accessories.

More than that, he could use a friend who understands his loss.

“My son is a good boy. He’s trying so hard ... but he needs somebody to talk to who’s been through it. Honest to God, that’s what he needs most,” Rhonda said. “His dad and I are here to help, but we don’t know how it feels.”

Dave’s coworkers have organized a Ripson family benefit Saturday at Lewiston No. 2 Fire Hall. Everything from the hall to the food, drink and auction prizes is donated by area businesses, so every penny raised will go to Dave.

The Ripsons’ plight is one that any family man can understand, organizer Mike Bartlett suggested.

“I put myself in Dave’s shoes and I know: If somebody is able to ease the financial burden, it’s one less thing for him to worry about. He’s got a lot going on right now,” he said.

The benefit will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday at the fire hall, 1705 Saunders Settlement Road, Niagara Falls. Tickets cost $20 per person and cover food and beverages. A Chinese auction and 50/50 split club will be held. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance by calling Mike at 807-9127 or Scott at 946-7733.

The Children of Patricia Ripson fund was started previously by Modern Disposal. Contributions can be mailed to the fund in care of First Niagara Bank, P.O. Box 58, Ransomville, NY 14131.