The past 13 months have held much change for Katie Woltkamp. To summarize her life from 2016 to present day as a rollercoaster ride would seem more than fitting.
Two of her three recently acquired titles came as no surprise. The title of “newlywed” as she exchanged “I Do’s” with her best friend and love of her life, Alex Woltkamp on April 30, 2016. One year and 12 days later, the newlyweds welcomed the second title of parents, as they celebrated the birth of their daughter Bren Alexandra Woltkamp on May 12 of this year.
Katie Woltkamp, however, was not expecting nor prepared for the title which would find her seven short days later as she nursed her newborn in the couple’s Oakdale home – widow.
On Friday, May 19 at the much too young age of 26, Alex Woltkamp passed away unexpectedly at Stanford Medical Center.
The 2008 Oakdale High School alum first met his wife Katie through a mutual friend in 2013, some 10 years after having a heart transplant at the age of 12.
“I feel like you can’t help who you connect with,” Katie said of her attraction and unmistakable connection with her late husband from day one.
“I never really cared,” she added of learning of his transplant.
Noting that Alex led a pretty typical life, which included regular check-ups, she said his overall health was good.
“I just really felt like we just got along so well and this was just different,” she said. “I know it sounds cliché’, but he really was my best friend. I don’t have any bad memories with Alex, we really enjoyed each other.”
In the fall of 2016, shortly after learning of their pregnancy, the transplant recipient began experiencing complications, which seemed routine to the couple and not concerning. In November 2016 Alex had heart valve surgery, which resulted in short term disability from October 2016 to April 2017. In April he returned to his mechanic’s job in Modesto.
Four short weeks later, during his follow-up appointment at Stanford, the couple learned he would need to be readmitted due to a concern with fluid retention. Katie was 39 weeks pregnant at the time.
“I was nervous, but I was hopeful that everything would go smooth,” Katie said of her husband being admitted on May 11 of this year. “I tried to be strong and tried not to stress about it too much. Everything was going really smooth. I don’t think either of us was really concerned.”
As luck would have it, Friday, May 12 Bren was ready and mom went into labor. Alex’s team of doctors felt it was safe for him to return to the Valley for the delivery of his daughter and requested he return to the hospital the following week after the family spent time bonding.
“Since he was there for observation, leaving did not seem to be a problem,” Katie said. “He was able to leave and check himself back in.”
Tuesday, May 16 he left his Oakdale home and returned to Stanford to get well. Friday, May 19 following two routine phone/Facetime calls with his girls back home, Alex passed away.
Katie shared that shortly after concluding her final call with her husband, she received a call from his doctor stating she should come to the hospital. Alex had “coded” and was being “hooked up to the bypass machine.”
“I was still not concerned,” she said, noting that it all seemed routine and not an emergency situation.
Figuring she and Bren would be in the Bay for an extended period of time, Katie stated she called her mom to come and get her and packed for a month.
But that never transpired.
As Katie loaded the car with mom and baby, she received a second call from the doctor; Alex was gone.
“I think his doctor was just as in shock as we were,” she shared. “It hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m not a super emotional person, but having her (Bren) and she was literally seven days old.
“That was the worst drive ever,” she said of the trip upon learning the news. “It was terrible. It was horrible. It took so long to get there.”
Less than two weeks later, the widow shared it still doesn’t seem real or possible, yet it is.
“I was expecting him to be in the hospital like through another week at least,” she said. “It (emotions) comes in waves. I always knew we’d have a tough road, but I didn’t expect this.”
Yet amidst it all, the sun has shone through for the mother and newborn. Shortly after receiving the call a family member offered to set up a Go Fund Me to help cover expenses and the like.
“It’s been unreal to be honest,” she said. “The amount of support. I think it hit the goal in like two to three days. It’s been crazy.”
The roller coaster ride, in many ways, has continued.
“It’s been really hard, especially with everyone being so supportive,” she continued. “There’s been so many days when I just want to pick up the phone and tell Alex how much everybody has been stepping up to the plate. He was so loved by so many people. We are so loved.”
Aside from the heartache and the community kindness, Katie is most grateful for the days the three were able to spend as a family following the birth of their baby. Precious memories and photos now cherished for a lifetime.
“It was great to have him there and watch him. He was great with her,” Katie said. “I’m just so thankful we at least had that weekend together.”
As for day in and day out, post the birth of Bren and passing of Alex, she takes it a day at a time.
“I’ve really had to be on task mode,” she said of the past 10 days. “I’m kind of at that numb stage. I realize we’re planning this (funeral services), but it doesn’t necessarily feel like I’m planning it for my husband.
“He really wanted to be the best dad ever,” she reflected, “and even though he was only able to do that a couple of days … he was.”
A viewing for Alex Woltkamp will be hosted on Thursday, June 1 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Franklin and Downs. Graveside service will be conducted on Friday, June 2 at 9:30 a.m. at Lakewood Cemetery, and a Celebration of Life service will be hosted at Elks Lodge Modesto from noon to 4 p.m. that same day.
Persons interested in offering a donation to the family may do so by visiting Alex Woltkamp Memorial Fund on the Go Fund Me website.