A dying mother of six children asked her best friend to raise her children if she didn’t make it, and the friend – already with three children of her own – said yes.
Beth Laitkep, a single mother of six children, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 when she was pregnant with her youngest child. He was delivered by emergency c-section at 30 weeks, so she could begin cancer treatments. For a while, the treatments seemed to work, but then in June 2015, her cancer came back.
Laitkep and Stephanie Culley had been best friends since high school. Culley, married with three children of her own, started taking Laitkep to doctor appointments and helping her family. Then the cancer spread to Laitkep’s bones, brain and spine. There was nothing more that could be done. “That’s when we started talking about the kids,” Culley said.
Lying in the hospital bed, with Culley sitting by her side, Laitkep asked the question, “Will you take my babies? If a miracle doesn’t happen and I don’t make it, can you take my children as your own?”
“I told her yes, I would do it in a heartbeat,” Culley said. The older children’s father was “not in the picture” and the father of Laitkep’s younger children had left the family during Laitkep’s struggle with cancer. They brought the children to the hospital and talked to them about it. The six children, Will, 15, Selena, 14, Jaxson, 11, Dallas, 10, Lily, 5, and Ace, 2 all agreed they wanted the same thing – to live with Culley if a miracle didn’t happen for mommy.
The Culley family brought the children into their home to live in April, and they continued visiting their mother each day in the hospital. Laitkep, 39 years old, lost her battle to cancer on May 19. Culley said the children were heartbroken to lose their mother, but already had new parents and siblings to rely on for support, and the nine children all consider themselves true brothers and sisters.
Culley’s husband, Donnie, is a construction worker, and had built their family home 10 years ago with enough bedrooms to accommodate the entire brood. “There was some higher power working here, everything just sort of fell into place – like us having a big enough house for nine kids,” says Culley. “It had to be someone up above looking out for us, protecting those kids and making sure they had a place when Beth died.”
They are in the process of adopting the children, and have a court date of June 19 to finalize the case. The Culley family has just expanded from five to eleven.
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