4 BUCKS: ‘Thankful we are all together’

by Sonja J. Keith

When his wife became pregnant with the couple’s second child, Casey Buck ordered a special license plate to reflect his love of family — 4 BUCKS — but there was a time when he wondered if he would suffer one or perhaps two terrible losses.

Casey met his wife, Kristina, while they both were studying music at Loyola University in New Orleans. Kristina grew up in Harrison and graduated from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville with a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance. Casey was born in New York and grew up in the Atlanta area.

Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, brought the two to Arkansas. They had planned to marry in New Orleans, but their church was damaged and under 8 feet of water following the hurricane. They kept their Oct. 22 wedding date, but moved the ceremony to Arkansas.

Casey was playing cello in the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra when he heard about an opening in the Conway School District. He applied and was hired. For the last 10 years, Kristina has been an adjunct voice professor at ATU.

During the summer of 2007, the couple moved into a home they built in Conway. In June 2011, they welcomed their first daughter, Abigail.

Kristina developed blood pressure issues that were carefully monitored beginning in her second trimester. At a doctor’s appointment two weeks before her due date, her obstetrician decided he needed to deliver the baby that day. “My appointment was at 10, and he wanted me back at 4 at the hospital,” Kristina said, explaining there was nothing life threatening, but the doctor wanted to avoid any possible issues.

Kristina was in labor for about 15 hours, with her doctor deciding to do a C-section. Bloodwork showed her platelet count to be low.

“That’s when HELLP syndrome showed its ugly face,” she said.

“It was one of those situations we need to do something or it’s going to get bad,” Casey said.

Abigail was born weighing 5 pounds and 5 ounces. Although she was small, she was perfectly healthy. Today, she is a kindergartener at Woodrow Cummins Elementary School in Conway.

The couple built a new, bigger house in Conway and moved in December 2015. “We were hopeful we would need the extra space for a nursery and felt like we should step out in faith and see what happened,” Casey said. “The following month, we found out Kristy was pregnant!”

At every doctor’s appointment, her blood pressure was checked, and there were no problems. “It was a perfect pregnancy,” Casey said, until her third trimester when some problems developed. Her feet began to swell, which she attributed to standing while she was teaching. She also recalls getting a bad headache after a glucose test was administered, but thought it was probably just because of stress and she had not eaten.

After a second test a couple of weeks later, she once again did not feel well. “The weekend after that I felt horrible,” she said, adding that she was vomiting but just thought she was having a migraine headache and a kidney stone. “I didn’t go to the doctor because I’ve had kidney stones all my life.”

Kristina felt a little better the following week and returned to teaching but was sick again by mid-week. That Friday night, she had a late-night episode of pain, a massive headache and vomiting. The following day, Casey asked his dad, Bernie Buck, to help with Abigail because Kristina was so sick and he was involved in All Region Orchestra hosted at Conway High.

That morning, Bernie took Kristina to an urgent care clinic. “The crazy thing was her blood pressure was perfect that morning,” Casey said. “They basically said we can’t do anything for you because you’re pregnant,” Kristina added.

Afterward, Kristina called her obstetrician’s office and was prescribed medicine for her head. “When I woke up from a nap, I couldn’t see,” Kristina said, adding that there was a blind spot in the center of her vision. When she went to tell her father-in-law, the spot got bigger and he couldn’t understand what she was saying.

Bernie took Kristina to the Conway Regional ER and called Casey. When they all arrived around 3 p.m., Kristina was taken to labor and delivery, where her blood pressure was taken several times because it kept registering a “crazy reading” like 220/180.

“Things went south really fast,” Casey said.

After trying to get the blood pressure under control, Casey was told that to heal Kristina, the baby needed to be delivered, even though she was only at 31 weeks. Her due date was Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24.

Casey remembers the agony of waiting outside of labor and delivery. “My first thought was they are not allowing me back there. I thought, ‘That’s not a good sign.’”

At 4:51 p.m., the couple’s second daughter, Adia Shalom, was delivered at 3 pounds and 3 ounces. She was two months premature.

Kristina did well during the procedure and remained sedated afterward to give her body time to rest.

Adia was examined by the family’s pediatrician, Dr. Jeff Craig. She had a slow start but was stable. Casey got to see Adia for about five minutes before Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s Angel 1 flew her to Little Rock where she was placed in the neonatal intensive care unit.

After the delivery, a CT scan showed a couple of small bleeds on Kristina’s brain. She was admitted to the Critical Care Unit and transferred the next day to Baptist Hospital in Little Rock in case her condition worsened and she required brain surgery.

Kristina remembers when the doctor walked up to her in labor and delivery, but doesn’t have any recollection of the next 48 hours. What she does recall is getting to see Abigail before being transferred. Kristina had a breathing tube, making it difficult to speak, but she used hand gestures to share “I love you” with her daughter.

In total, Kristina spent five days in intensive care and two days in a regular patient room. It was the following Thursday before she could see well enough to recognize people that she knew.

“I felt the baby was getting the best of care,” he said, adding that he went to see her a few days later and received regular updates on Adia’s condition as she made good progress.

In the meantime, Casey’s dad cared for Abigail so she could continue to go to school while keeping her life as normal as possible. “She did really well with all of it,” Casey said. “That was hard for a while. My three different girls were in three different places and I’m sort of trying to bounce between the three of them.”

From Day 1, Casey kept family and friends updated via Facebook. The couple was overwhelmed by the messages of prayer and support from friends all over the country and even overseas. Casey’s posts were shared, and they also received words of encouragement from others they have never met.

Support also came from families who also had preemies. “That encouraged us and helped to put our fears at ease,” Casey said.

Kristina and Casey “absolutely” feel that the prayers helped, providing health and healing for mom and baby as well as help for Casey to be strong for his family and “trusting that God has purpose in all things, even things that don’t look so good.”

The couple is appreciative of the help and support from their church family at The Church Alive and co-workers in the Conway School District and Arkansas Tech. “Karla Fournier (also an orchestra instructor in the Conway School District) opened a donation account, and we’ve had teachers and staff donate to help offset some of the medical bills.”

Casey is also appreciative of the care both his wife and his new daughter received at Conway Regional. “Everybody — the nurses, doctors and medical staff — were amazing.”

It was a week after the birth before Kristina was discharged and could finally meet her daughter.

“One of the hardest things for her, as a mommy, was by the time the decision was made to go ahead and take the baby, she was so out of it she didn’t know,” Casey said. “It was half a day later before she was somewhat lucid enough in the CCU for the doctors to tell her we went ahead and delivered the baby and she’s at Children’s.”

It was an emotional time for Kristina as she met Adia for the first time. She was excited to get to see her baby, but also disappointed that she had missed the first week after the delivery and sad by what her baby was going through.

Kristina and Casey were told that typically preemies don’t leave the NICU before their original due date, but Adia only remained in the NICU for 32 days and arrived home on Oct. 26. “She is perfectly healthy,” Casey said. “We feel very grateful. She’s really doing great with no problems. That to me is nothing short of miraculous.”

The newborn’s name has special meaning for the couple. “Adia (pronounced AH-dee-uh) is Hebrew for ‘ornament of God.’ Shalom is Hebrew for peace,” Casey said. “She is named in honor of my mom, Sherry, who passed away in March 2013.”

Kristina has researched HELLP Syndrome and discovered the problems that she experienced the two weeks prior to the emergency C-section are typical symptoms of the disease. But instead of linking them, she and Casey thought they were individual ailments.

Looking back on Sept. 24, Casey is thankful his dad was with Kristina and that he took the steps he did. “I fully believe he saved both their lives that day,” he said. “If he hadn’t been there, she would’ve been home alone with Abigail. She would’ve been to a point where she couldn’t have called 911 or anything.”

As she has recovered from the C-section, Kristina’s vision has improved, but she continues to have some issues. Her voice is also healing from the intubation. With medication, her blood pressure has returned to normal.

The two were very happy to bring Adia home to live with them and Abigail, a very proud big sister. “It was a relief to have the whole family under one roof,” Casey said. “I’m very thankful we are all together.”