A text message, a tragic death and then a baby

Life can be bitter-sweet.

“In the midst of life, we are in death” is an often quoted first line of a medieval monks’ chant. This reminds us that the two central mysteries of life, birth and death, can be paired together.

Of course, in the old days, this was sadly often the case as childbirth was a much riskier business than today. But here is a modern story about how new technology enabled one new soul to step through the door of life even as it closed on another.

They wanted to have children together

A little over two years ago, Californian newlyweds Lenee and Jeremi Kehnt had a serious conversation about Jeremi’s smoking. Lenee wanted him to quit, so he could stick around longer, especially as they wanted to have children together.

The conversation got Jeremi thinking. It led him to send a text message that became more important than either of them could possibly have imagined.

“So, u said the other day u want me to quit smoking so I’m around longer. This is my official word. If for any reason I get in an accident and in a coma or brain dead, keep me on machines. Till I come back. And u can pull sperm from me to have a girl. And u can move on if you wanted. Just saying.”

Less than two months later, the worst-case scenario happened when Jeremi was struck down and killed on his motorbike.

Lenee said,  “When the medical team got there, there was no saving him. He was already gone. In the blink of an eye. We were just married. We were planning a baby. You know, it wasn’t meant to be this way.”

In the midst of the pain of bereavement, and in her terrible grief, Lenee remembered Jeremi’s text message. She said, “I was thinking. I was praying, I was begging God. Please, can this be done!”

Sperm is normally donated by living donors, and samples are rarely taken after death. But 29 hours after his death Jeremi’s body was taken to the morgue, and 44 hours later his sperm was extracted.

Would the sperm still be alive?

Sperm can survive for up to three days in the female tract, so there is no reason why they would not last even longer in the male testes after death.

In Lenee’s case, IVF was successful with Jeremi’s sperm. 11 months after the accident, Lenee gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Remi. Lenee said, “I’m starting to see a little tiny bit of me but she does look like her dad. She has my skin colour. Her dad was a little darker, but everything looks like him.”

She is aware that the process of having her daughter is not only unique, but to some, controversial.

I am just helping another human being that is in such pain

Dr. Cappy Rothman, is the owner of the facility in California that carried out the procedure to remove and store Jeremi’s sperm. He said, “I’m not playing God. I am just helping another human being that is in such pain that I could help. You are on the other end of the phone and can feel their pain. This family has just lost a loved one, it’s just hard to say no.”

The first birth from post-mortem sperm retrieval in the US took place back in 1995.  The first baby born from post-mortem sperm was in 1999. Even so, Lenee’s is only the fourth pregnancy from post-mortem sperm retrieval that is known in the US. Baby Remi is only the third live birth from the procedure.

From a legal point of view, the law in the US is struggling to keep up. There is no federal law that regulates these procedures and births. Consent is key and in Lenee’s case, the texts from Jeremi clearly expressed his wishes.

Lenee said,  “The only thing that mattered was me, my husband, the love that we shared between us and what he said. She was loved. She was wanted and was planned. Her father loved her.”

Jeremi, speaking presciently from before the accident, would seem to agree. One of his texts read, “She’s gonna be my legacy.”

Based on her experiences, Lenee has started the Jeremi Kehnt Foundation. This is for young widows and families like hers. It provides support for children who have lost one or more of their immediate family members due to tragedy or illness.

You can read more HERE.