When Casi and Joey Rott found out they were expecting triplets, the couple, who were already parents to two daughters, ages 6 and 2, did everything in their power to make sure the babies were healthy and carried full-term.
On Jan. 29 – at 34 weeks pregnant – Casi went in for a scheduled C-section and all three babies were safely delivered. The proud parents couldn’t wait to leave the hospital and start their lives as a family of seven.
But Casi never got to welcome her newborns into their home in Clay Center, Kansas.
On Feb. 8 – just one week after giving birth to Levi, Asher and Piper – Casi died from a blood clot in her lungs.
“The last thing we thought we had to be concerned about was Casi,” Rott, 33, tells PEOPLE. “We were so focused on the triplets.”
Casi and Joey met at work in 2004, and Joey admits it was his wife who made the first move.
“We became good friends and she was actually the one to ask me out first,” Joey, who works in IT, says. “But I wasn’t really into the idea of dating someone from work.”
But he agreed to a first date and they went to see a movie, which was followed by “hours of talking.” They quickly realized that they were destined for more than just friendship.
Joey proposed two years later during a hunting trip. “We loved doing outdoor stuff,” he says. “Fishing, canoeing, you name it.”
The happy couple moved from Kansas City to Joey’s hometown of Clay Center and they bought an old farmhouse, which they “turned into the house of their dreams,” he says.
Casi, a secretary at a local elementary school, was “extremely crafty” and created all the artwork in the house and made the curtains.
“She is all over this house,” Joey says. “There isn’t one wall that doesn’t have something she painted on it.”
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In 2009, they welcomed their first daughter, Chloe. Four years later, their second daughter, Tenley, arrived.
“We were busy with those two, but we knew we wanted a big family,” Joey says. “Life was great.”
Unexpected Baby Joy
Joey admits it was “pretty overwhelming” when the couple first found out they were expecting triplets. But they “soaked in the shock” and their emotions soon turned into excitement and joy.
“She did everything she had to do for those babies,” he says. “She took all her vitamins, she went to the doctor when she was supposed to.”
At 24 weeks pregnant, Casi temporarily moved to the Wichita area, which was over two hours away, so she could be closer to the NICU.
“She stayed with my brother-in-law, but we would come visit every weekend and FaceTime every night so she could see the girls,” says Joey, who continued to work and send Chloe and Tenley to school. “Throughout the day, we would text and email.”
During her time away, Casi spent lots of time online, researching and ordering things she needed for the nursery – from cribs to bed linens.
Then on Jan. 29 at 8 a.m., Casi went in for her scheduled C-section, which went according to plan.
“Later in the day, we went to the nursery and spent a lot of time holding the babies,” Joey remembers. “She was in the hospital with them for four days. She started breastfeeding. It was great. She just ate it up.”
But two days after she left the hospital – with the babies still in the NICU – Casi woke up in the middle of the night complaining of chest pains and a fast heartbeat.
Joey drove Casi to the hospital and a CT scan revealed she had a blood clot in her lungs.
She was admitted for a few days and after being told “the clot was in the best part of her lungs it could be,” the doctor said she was going to be okay.
“We thought it was behind us,” says Joey.
Before she left the hospital, Casi was able to spend time with her babies. She and Joey then went home and finished getting the final touches ready for the triplets’ arrival.
The devoted mom did laundry, organized the babies’ clothes, put up a few photographs and “was getting back into the rhythm,” Joey says.
Later in the day, Joey picked up Chloe and Tenley from school and told them they had a surprise waiting for them at home.
When they walked in, Casi cried tears of happiness as she hugged her daughters for the first time in three months.
But that moment of bliss was short-lived. Five minutes later, her chest pain returned.
A Turn for the Worst
Joey immediately called his mom to come and watch the girls, and the couple got in the car and set off for the hospital.
For a brief moment, Casi started to feel better. “Then things turned for the worst,” Joey recalls. “I was driving and suddenly she just passed out.”
Joey called 911 to make sure the hospital was prepared for their arrival.
“She wasn’t moving the entire time. I didn’t know if she was breathing,” he says. “But it was too late. The people at the hospital did all they could do. They worked on her for over an hour.”
Casi was gone and Joey was let in a state of shock.
“My emotions were numb. It didn’t feel real at all. It was for sure the worst moment of my life,” he says. “It’s nothing that we ever would have expected.”
Since the day that he lost his “best friend,” Joey says he’s been trying to adjust to being a single father of five.
At 6:30 in the morning, he wakes up his two older daughters and gets them ready for school. Then at 7, his mother, who lives close by, comes over to watch the triplets while he goes to work.
“I went back to work two weeks ago,” Joey says. “That’s one thing I wanted to get back into because it helped me to get into a routine again.”
Joey, who was planning on celebrating his 10-year wedding anniversary this May, says one of the hardest things he’s dealing with is just the fact that he’s not able to talk to Casi every day.
“There are so many times during the day when someone asks me a question or something pops into my mind and the first thing I think is just to ask Casi,” he says. “It’s a lot of little things.”
In addition to the support he’s received from his family, Joey’s entire community has come forward to help as well.
A GoFundMe page, which has raised over $127,000 so far, was created to help the devastated family.
Joey, who says his older daughter Chloe understands she lost her mother and talks about her a lot, says the family is “taking it day by day,” and that he’s not looking too far into the future.
“We will learn as we go,” he says.
But he does know one thing for sure.
“After Tenley was born, Casi said to me, ‘If something every happens to me, just make sure the kids know how much I love them.’ That stuck in my head,” Joey says. “That’s one thing I’m going to make sure I tell them all the time.”
And while he often succumbs to moments of sadness, like when he listened to his wife’s favorite song “Breath” by Pearl Jam the other day and cried, he says he has to push forward.
“I have to be strong because there are five little ones who depend on me now.”