Katie Bauer would always tease her older sister, Victoria, for being her dad’s favorite.
“I never considered myself to be a ‘daddy’s girl’ growing up,” Katie said, but through the many tragedies in the months leading up to his death, the two grew closer and forged a bond she says she never imagined.
“I would tell you now that I’m a daddy’s girl,” Katie said. “I love my dad more than anyone in this world. He was the best man that I’ve ever met, ever will know.”
Over the course of seven months, Robbinsville natives Katie, 28, and Victoria, 32, lost their brother, mother and father. On top of their grief, the sisters now are faced with handling their parents’ debts, including power and water bills, the mortgage on the house and hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
As difficult as this time has been, they are leaning on each other and the support of their community to pick up the pieces and move forward.
At Martin Bauer’s memorial on Jan. 7, Katie said all her father’s friends and coworkers came up to her and her sister to tell them that Marty was the best man they ever knew.
“It’s one thing when you know what a great dad you have and how someone is at home,” Katie said, “but it was so special to us that he was the exact same person when he walked out that door and went to work.”
On Dec. 16, Marty had been feeling ill for a few days, and Victoria convinced him to go to an urgent care clinic to get checked out. He assumed he was having acid reflux, but his electrocardiogram results at the clinic showed something far worse. He was taken to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital where doctors found he was having an heart attack.
The seven months prior had been exceptionally difficult for the Bauers. In June, Bob Bauer—Marty’s son and Katie and Victoria’s brother—collapsed outside of a friends house.
Earlier that day, Bob left his parents home, telling them he’d be home shortly and that he wanted to reserve the family TV at 8 p.m. for a hockey game.
“There was some big game,” Victoria said. “The Rangers were playing. That was his team.”
Bob loved hockey almost as much as he loved fishing. Marty would take his three kids fishing often, but when Katie was a teenager she said she and her brother were very close and would go fishing together.
When Bob was 15, Katie said he began abusing prescription painkillers. He was an addict and eventually began using heroin. He was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his early 20s. He cycled in and out of rehab, but in the months leading up to his death, everyone thought he was finally on the right track.
“The thing you learn from rehab is No. 1, you have to want it for yourself,” Katie said. “The last time I think he really wanted it for himself.”
After his last stay in rehab, Bob was living at his parents house and regularly attending NA meetings. He was back to work and seemed to be doing well, until one Friday evening when he told his father he wasn’t feeling great and asked him to take him to an meeting. Marty was always the one to drive him to his meetings.
That Sunday, hours after he left the house, they received a call from Bob’s friends father informing them that Bob collapsed and was being taken to the hospital.
Receiving this kind of phone call was not unusual for the Bauers. For over decade, Bob had been rushed to the ER on several occasions. Katie said they found him unresponsive in the house many times before. They were preparing themselves for another argument with Bob about going back to rehab, just like all the other times.
Victoria said when they arrived at the hospital though, they knew something bad happened. Normally they were taken straight to his hospital bed but this time they were taken into a separate room.
A doctor arrived to inform them that Bob was found without a pulse, but was revived after 20 minutes. They suspected he had an aneurysm and needed to be transferred to Jefferson Hospital.
“I was kind of angry because I thought, ‘All these years he’s had this drug problem he’s struggled with, and an aneurysm is going to be the thing,’” Katie said. But when they arrived at Jefferson, they learned it was in fact an overdose.
Bob was placed on a ventilator and breathing tube, but at around 3 a.m., the family was informed that there was no brain function.
Three years earlier, their mother, Debbie Bauer, was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, a terminal disease. As a family, they had discussed end of life care together and had expressed their wishes to each other, so when the doctors gave them the news they already knew what Bob would have wanted.
On June 15, Bob was taken off of life support. He was 34 years old. The one good thing that came from this tragedy, Katie said, was Bob’s organs were donated to three individuals. Bob believed strongly in organ donation, and Katie remembers when she got her driver’s license, Bob told her that she should make sure to be an organ donor.
“I think it would have made him happy and as a family, it has brought us a lot of comfort,” she said.
Victoria said Bob’s death was incredibly hard for their parents.
“They both said it was the hardest thing they ever went through,” Victoria said, but her mother encouraged them all to persevere. “She said it’s obviously very difficult, but life goes on and you have to go on with it. You don’t really have a choice.”
That’s the person Debbie was, they said. Debbie was diagnosed with IPF in 2013, a disease in which the tissue in the lungs becomes scarred over time and the lungs can not properly move oxygen to other parts of the body. There is no known cause of IPF, and there is no cure. The prognosis, according to the National Institutes on Health, is 3 to 5 years.
Debbie, a board-certified pharmacy technician, didn’t take her diagnosis laying down, her daughters said. Immediately, she became an advocate for IPF patients and would spend a lot of time consoling other patients in chatrooms.
Within a month after Bob’s death, Debbie had an exasperation of her disease. The summer prior, she lost her leg to a blood clot and for years suffered from the complications of the disease.
Shortly after being released from the hospital, Debbie fell and cracked a rib and was readmitted. After being admitted into a long-term care facility, she returned to Temple Hospital where the family learned her disease had progressed.
“She had made it clear what her wishes were, and she was more concerned about quality of life over quantity,” Katie said. They planned to begin palliative care to make her as comfortable as possible.
On Oct. 24, Marty, Victoria and Katie were at the hospital with her when the nurses suggested they get something to eat while they cleaned Debbie up.
While in the cafeteria downstairs, a “code blue” on their mother’s floor was announced on the speakers, and Katie said they all rushed back up to her floor. As a family, they faced yet another hard decision. Respecting her end of life wishes, they decided to let go. She died at 58, surrounded by her husband and daughters.
“I think that was the hardest on my dad,” Katie said. “He loved my mom. She was the love of his life.”
The two were married for 36 years.
Katie says her father found solace in God, and returned to his spirituality in the months after her passing. He was attending therapy and would call his brother, who is a counselor and pastor, often.
After Marty’s heart attack, he was transferred to St. Francis Medical Center, where he had triple bypass surgery. His kidneys were not functioning properly, so the doctors decided to transfer him to the Hospital of University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Right before the transfer, Marty spoke to his daughters for the last time.
“He asked us to pray for him and to ask God to give him the strength to accept whatever he has in store for him,” Katie said.
At UPenn, he was diagnosed with cardiogenic shock, a rare condition where the blood cannot pump enough blood to the body. His condition began to deteriorate, and doctors suggested they call family members.
On Dec. 31, Victoria, Katie, and their aunts and uncles gathered in the ICU by Marty’s side. They played all of his favorite songs on his iPod, and sang him songs from his favorite artists including Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead and The Doors.
After some time, their aunt and uncle went to take a break, and it was just Katie, Victoria and one uncle in the room. The iPod shut off, and Katie says it was very quiet. Marty’s breathing slowed, and she noticed on his vitals there was no pulse. The nurse told them he was gone.
Katie and Victoria kissed their father on the forehead, told him they loved him and said goodbye.
“It went from his spirit being in his body, and now it’s in my heart,” Katie said.
Katie and Victoria lost both parents at young age. Although they said some of their friends have lost one parent, they don’t know anyone who has lost both.
“Of course you think of all the things they are going to miss.” Katie said. “Then there’s things I might turn to them for advice for. Just the other day, I was doing something, and I thought to myself, ‘I’ll just call Dad and ask him.’ “It hits you in the gut. You feel like an orphan. You’re thrown back into feeling like a little girl again.”
But the Bauers are faced with some very grown-up situations. Katie, who has a home of her own in Hamilton, can’t afford to pay off all of her parents’ bills, and Victoria is currently between jobs.
They have hired a lawyer, and although both parents had life insurance, the payout will go to their parents’ debts. Because their father didn’t have a will, they are unable to access accounts and have immediate bills that need to be paid.
While their father was in the hospital, Katie confided in her friend Kimberly Hodul, who she works with at Cenlar, a mortgage loan company in Ewing. Hodul set up a GoFundMe Page for the Bauer family to help with the medical costs that will now go to paying bills.
Victoria and Katie say they are overwhelmed with the outpouring of support they have received.
“It’s amazing where you get the support you get.” Victoria said. “People you don’t even know that contribute or support. It’s amazing.”
“The love and support we’ve received has just been incredible and I don’t know how we could ever repay that,” Katie said.
To contribute to the GoFundMe for the Bauers, visit gofundme.com/35j0bko.