"She loved them so much from the minute she found out she was pregnant," Barb Rott tells PEOPLE of her daughter-in-law

By Tiare Dunlap
Updated March 15, 2016 11:20 AM
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Credit: Courtesy Joey Rott

When mother of five Casi Rott was finally able to return home on Feb. 8, just one week after giving birth to triplets, she spent the afternoon cooking, cleaning and making Valentine’s Day cards for her two oldest daughters. Hours later, the elementary school secretary from Clay Center, Kansas, died suddenly from a blood clot in her lungs.

“The afternoon she came home [from the hospital] she was nesting,” Casi’s mother-in-law, Barb Rott, tells PEOPLE. “She had food in the oven, she had the laundry going and she told me, ‘I just love this house and I love being home.’ We’re so grateful she was able to make it home.”

Casi’s husband, Joey Rott, had rushed his wife to the hospital days earlier after she woke up in the middle of the night complaining of chest pain and a rapid heartbeat.

“When we first learned about the blood clot in her lungs, it was so scary for me because as I nurse, I knew everything that could go wrong,” Barb, 61, says. “But they were in the best hospital in Kansas and they checked her out and said everything was okay and that she could come home.”

With her triplets still in the NICU, Casi went home and cried tears of joy as she embraced her two daughters, who had been anxiously awaiting her return. But the chest pain returned just minutes later, and while Joey was driving her to the hospital, she passed out.

“She wasn’t moving the entire time. I didn’t know if she was breathing,” Joey told PEOPLE. “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 pronounced dead, leaving Joey to raise the couple’s five children without the love of his life.

Now, more than a month later, Joey is doing his best to establish a new normal. Every morning, he takes his two older daughters, Chloe, 6, and Tenley, 2, to school while his mom, Barb, comes over to take care of the triplets while he’s at work.

“The hardest thing as a mom is that I can’t take this pain away,” Barb says. “He’s managing, but it’s tough, it really is, to be as young as he is and to have five little kids on your own.”

Joey and the kids are being supported by four generations of family members, a close-knit community and hundreds of strangers who have donated over $135,000 to a GoFundMe page that was created to help the devastated family.

“Small communities are just amazing in times like these,” Barb says. “They’ve held diaper drives, the church has been wonderful, it’s just amazing how many people want to help.”

Barb says she’s certain the outpouring of support is a reflection of how much her daughter-in-law was beloved by her community.

“She was a very giving person and I know that’s why the community is doing this – everybody loved her,” says Barb. “She never had an enemy and she always went out of her way to help the kids at school who didn t have as much as someone else had.”

Barb says the triplets – Levi, Asher and Piper – are also keeping the family strong in the face of tragedy.

“It’s such a joy to have three healthy babies. If we didn t have them we would be much sadder, for sure, but they really keep us going. And Chloe and Tenley are really enjoying them,” she says.

And when the triplets are older, she says she’ll tell them all about what an amazing woman their mother was.

“I want them to know that she loved them, she loved them so much from the minute she found out she was pregnant,” Rott says.

“She gave her life to those babies, she made sure that they were healthy. She could ve delivered many weeks earlier, but the doctor told her if she could get to 34 weeks that would be the healthiest the babies could be – and she made it.”