Pregnant and terminally ill, Carrie DeKlyen never feared death — but she was terrified of losing her baby.
Now, the Michigan mother of five who was diagnosed with glioblastoma — an aggressive, rapidly growing malignant tumor that can affect the brain and spinal cord — lies in a “vegetative state” in a Michigan hospital, inching toward death so her unborn child can have a chance at life.
Carrie enrolled in a clinical trial at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor after her diagnosis in April, where doctors informed her that she was pregnant and would need to “terminate her pregnancy,” to receive treatment, Carrie’s sister-in-law, Sonya Nelson, tells PEOPLE.
“And she didn’t want to do that,” Nelson explains.
Carrie’s husband of 17 years, Nick DeKlyen, says his wife made the very difficult decision to forgo the trial and refuse chemotherapy treatments in order to preserve the proper development of her unborn baby.
“The doctor said if you don’t terminate this baby, Carrie, you will die,” Nick tells PEOPLE. “But it was Carrie’s decision and I said ‘What do you want to do?’ She said, ‘We’re keeping it.’ ”
Nick says the family is coming to terms with losing Carrie.
“She’s going to miss us, but she knows this life is so quick and we’ll see each other again in Heaven,” says Nick. “Knowing that gives her hope and, I know it’s crazy, but I support her decision.”
The mother of five is currently on life support and in a “vegetative state” in the ICU at the University of Michigan, according to her husband. She is now 21 weeks pregnant and doctors are hoping she lives for seven more weeks so that the baby can be delivered.
“I look at her face and know this is what she wants and it gives me comfort,” says Nick. “But right now, it’s a race against time. ”
An eternal love
Carrie, 37, and Nick, 39, met at church when they were 10 and 12, respectively.
“We had a puppy love,” says Nick. “We’re still very much in love, we’ve gone through stuff, of course, but you never quit on your wife … She’s my life.”
The couple has five kids — Elijah, 18, Isaiah, 16, Nevaeh, 11, Leila, 4, and Jez, 1 — with the hope that their unborn baby girl, whom they have already named Life, will become their sixth child.
“She’s the best mom,” says Nick, a former vending company owner. “She’s the kind of mom that wants to be with her kids all the time, building forts in the backyard, taking the kids on walks to the park and making them special lunches.
“I’m going to really miss those moments.”
A devastating diagnosis
Carrie, a stay-at-home mom, was diagnosed with glioblastoma in April after complaining of severe headaches.
“We didn’t think too much of it: She’s a mom of five and gets lots of headaches,” says Nick. “But one day she woke up vomiting and I knew something was wrong.”
Doctors told the family her condition was terminal and predicted that she’d live, at most, for five more years. That prognosis shortened significantly in the coming months.
“It was my worst nightmare,” says Nick. “She’s my only and I’m her only. We’ve never had anyone else so it’s hard to imagine life without her — but I thought I had a few more years to spend with her.”
A New life
Tragically, Carrie’s condition worsened, and quickly.
“She would wake me up in the middle of the night, screaming that her head hurt,” says Nick. “We knew she was dying.”
It’s been four months since Carrie’s diagnosis, and she’s undergone four major brain surgeries and suffered a stroke two weeks ago.
She hasn’t regained consciousness since.
“I don’t know if she hears me, but I tell her I love her every day,” says Nick. “I say, ‘I love you, Carrie, and I’m waiting for you to wake up and take you home.’ I tell her that I’m staying by her side, and I’ll never leave her. I want more than anything to bring her home.”
Instead, Nick and the kids — who set up a GoFundMe to help with finances after Nick quit his job to take care of Carrie — visit her in the hospital.
The baby Life’s health is “excellent,” says Nick. But Carrie gets closer to death every day.
“Her time is drawing near, but I know I’ll see her again, not in this life, but after my time is up I’ll be with her again in Heaven,” says Nick, who will raise the children on his own after Carrie is gone. “She made the decision to give Life a chance at life.”
“And I couldn’t be more proud.”