Adding to their family should have made it one of the happiest days of the young Australian couple’s lives. But when doctors told the proud dad his wife would not pull through after the birth, his world was rocked. He felt sweet joy at the birth of his daughter, coupled with bitter grief at the prospect of losing his wife. Before the extreme mixture of emotions overwhelmed him completely, he brought in his son. It was only fair the boy should say goodbye to his mom one last time.
In July 2017 Imogen Petrak lived in the suburb of Runaway Bay in the Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia. The 35 year old was married to her loving software developer husband, John, 38. The couple had been married for three years and already had a 17-month-old son called J.B. However, the Petraks had plans to expand their young family, and those plans were rapidly coming to fruition.
The heavily pregnant Imogen was a doting mom and loved spending time with her toddler, J.B. She took her infant son to a local playgroup where the staff knew the young mom for her selfless nature. Bearing this in mind, Imogen must have been over the moon in late 2016 when she discovered she was expecting her second child.
In the early days of her pregnancy, things appeared to be going well for Imogen and the baby. Life went on as normal for the Petraks and Imogen’s bump steadily grew. She experienced no notable hiccups in her progress and she grew increasingly excited to meet her first daughter. But late into her third trimester, fate intervened.
Imogen began to experience a severe and persistent pain in her ears in early July 2107. Not wanting to take any chances she rushed to the Gold Coast University Hospital in Southport with her suspected ear infection. However, when she arrived at the emergency room doctors there discovered the infection had spread to her brain. Furthermore, it was causing an extreme and dangerous swelling to the organ.
Due to the serious nature of Imogen’s condition and the advanced stage of her pregnancy, medical staff faced a dilemma. They decided to carry out an emergency cesarian section. So Imogen and John’s daughter, Eleanor Lillian Joy Petrak, made her way into the world four weeks early. Despite the dramatic circumstances of her arrival, the baby girl was born healthy.
Tragically, the same could not be said for the baby’s mother. Doctors noted that the infection had by this time caused catastrophic swelling to the brain. Not long after Eleanor was born, the readings for Imogen’s vital signs began to go into free-fall on the hospital monitors. At that point, doctors knew that the new mom wouldn’t make it.
As can be imagined, it was a heartbreaking time for the young man. John should have been celebrating the birth of his beautiful baby girl with his beloved wife. But instead, the doctors told the horrified husband it was time to say goodbye to her. Numb with shock and pain, John took J.B. in to Imogen’s room so that the boy she was devoted to could give his mom one last, tender kiss.
The scene made for a truly heart-rending photograph. Imogen sadly passed away shortly after the shot was taken. So now a traumatized John had to steel himself to break the tragic news of his wife’s death to their family and friends. So it was that he took to social media on Friday, July 14, 2017, to post a devastating update he will surely never forget.
A copy of John’s tragic Facebook post was obtained by the global newspaper the Epoch Times in July 2017. It read, “Today was a very bittersweet day. At 12:11 a.m. Eleanor Lillian Joy, my first daughter and second child, was born via emergency [C-section]. Then, some time after 5:00 p.m., my beautiful wife of three years died from complications of an ear infection.”
The new widower went on to thank his family, some of whom had managed to be with him and J.B. at Imogen’s bedside, for their support during the difficult time. “Thank you all for your prayers and well wishes, but God took her home,” John wrote. Now all the grieving dad could do was be there for his two small children.
Little Eleanor, he revealed in the post, needed to stay in the hospital’s intensive care unit. The baby girl had been born with some liquid on her lungs, and it was going to take a few days for doctors to flush it out. The good news was that – apart from this temporary set back – Eleanor was perfect. “She is so beautiful,” John gushed. “She has Imogen’s lips, ears, hair.”
John was in deep shock. It was only when he returned home from the hospital that the reality of Imogen’s sudden death began to sink in. “Her suitcase she prepared [is] in the boot [of the car], never to be used. At home, her sewing machine [is] on the table, with unfinished work for Eleanor,” he explained in the Facebook post.
“Every single plan we had… erased,” the heartbroken widower added. “She was my help and now she is gone. But through all this I have my God, and he has Imogen and my grandparents and in due time he will have me.” Speaking to his local newspaper, the Gold Coast Bulletin, John later said, “Imogen’s biggest dream was to see our daughter and she didn’t get to do that.”
Following Imogen’s untimely death, doctors at the Gold Coast University Hospital carried out some tests on the body. They discovered that the infection the young mom had suffered from was pneumococcal type 19F. Pneumococcal disease is a bacterial infection that can lead to pneumonia, sepsis, bacterial meningitis or an infection of the middle ear. It was the latter that Imogen sadly succumbed to and died.
In Australia, doctors give babies a series of vaccinations against pneumococcal disease before they are six months old through the National Immunisation Program Schedule. However, it emerged that toddler J.B. had not been inoculated. As a result, he may have passed the illness on to his mom.
According to a report in British newspaper the Daily Telegraph, J.B. had been unwell before his mom’s death. Pneumococcal bacteria can be spread in droplet particles produced by coughing or sneezing or by simply touching an infected person. So, it is fair to say that due to the close physical nature of a mother-infant relationship, it is highly possible Imogen could have picked the infection up from her child.
Since Australia launched its nationwide vaccination program against pneumococcal disease in 2005, deaths in children due to the disease have reduced significantly. Records show 154 cases of mortality due to the disease in 2004. However, older children and adults who have not been immunized are still at risk, and – as we have seen – can sometimes be susceptible to the disease.
It should be stressed, however, that the circumstances surrounding Imogen’s death are extremely rare. As a result, the nature of her passing shook the community in which she lived. Wanting to help the Petraks, Renee King – a friend who worked at J.B.’s playgroup – set up a crowdfunding campaign. Titled “New family face unthinkable tragedy,” the gofundme page aimed to raise money to cover funeral expenses and to provide a financial buffer for John so he can adjust to life as a single father of two children.
In little more than a month, people had raised AUS$121,000 (US$98,060) in donations. The impressive sum is testament to Imogen being well loved as a mother and a person in her own right. Writing on the page, with Eleanor home from hospital, John wrote, “‘Thank you’ just seems wholly inadequate to express how grateful I am but it is all I can say.”