Two months ago, 92-year-old Jean Roper of Trussville, Alabama, was dying of kidney failure and doctors told her children and grandchildren that it was time for them to say their goodbyes.
“They said she had only two or three weeks to live,” recalls Jean’s great-granddaughter, Kayla Tracy, 24, “and it was very hard for all of us to think that we were going to lose her. She’s always been the heart of our family.”
Then something remarkable happened.
Kayla’s 21-year-old sister, Amber Harris, was about to give birth to her first child and told Jean that the baby girl — Jean’s first great-great-grandaughter — would be named after her. Practically overnight, Jean’s condition began to improve.
“She was over the moon with excitement,” Kayla tells PEOPLE, “and she kept telling everyone, ‘I just want to live long enough to see that baby girl.’ “
Although Jean and her husband, Edward, 94, already have three children, seven grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and 11 great-great grandchildren, almost all of them are boys.
“To know that she was going to soon have a great-great granddaughter was like medicine for her,” says Kayla. “It was so amazing to watch her transformation that I knew I had to document it.”
A photographer with her own business, Kayla Tracy Photography, the married mom of two began spending more time at her great-great-grandmother’s house, less than two miles from her own, and captured Jean’s elation and new outlook on life.
“She’d been battling depression since losing her oldest son four years ago to the same thing she had — kidney failure,” Kayla tells PEOPLE, “but her whole attitude changed when she learned about that grandbaby. And once she was born, wow. It was an emotional time for everyone to witness her holding that new baby girl in her arms.”
Born on January 31, weighing 5 pounds and 2 ounces, Magnolia Jean “absolutely helped me to survive and pull through my diagnosis,” Jean, who used to run a beauty parlor in Trussville, tells PEOPLE.
“She helped keep my mind off how weak and terrible I felt,” she says, “and I thought she was the most beautiful baby girl I’d ever seen. She was so tiny and every part of her was just perfect.”
And earlier this month, says Jean, there was even more to celebrate.
On March 5, she and Edward marked their 75th wedding anniversary at a Cracker Barrel luncheon with their family, then returned to their 85-acre farm to pose for pictures snapped by Kayla.
When she met Edward on a blind date in 1941, “I thought he was mighty handsome, as well as kind and gentle,” Jean tells PEOPLE.
“And I thought enough of her to ask her on a second date,” adds Edward. “I mean, she was such a doll.”
Now that Jean is in good health with no signs of the kidney trouble that nearly ended her life a few short months ago, Kayla is hoping to soon take her great-grandmother fishing at the pond on her property and document the fun.
“People tell me that my great-grandparents’ story has touched their lives and made them realize what’s important in life,” she says. “To me, there’s really no greater compliment.”