Crimm didn’t get to share much time with her infant
daughter, Dottie Mae — she’d made the ultimate
sacrifice to give the little girl life.
received the grim diagnosis of terminal head and
neck cancer just months after her little girl was
conceived. She opted to skip chemotherapy to protect
her growing fetus.
long enough for the baby to be delivered. But
shortly after holding her daughter for the first
time, the Oklahoma woman slipped into a coma and
remembers the bittersweet moment when his sister
held her child.“I felt like it was probably the most
thing I’d ever seen in my life,” Ray Phillips told
Matt Lauer on TODAY Thursday. “I don’t think I’ll
ever see anything that beautiful again.”
Jubilation, then heartbreak
Crimm never thought she’d have a child.
Doctors had told her she wouldn’t be able to
conceive. So it was a glorious shock when she
discovered she was pregnant.
called her brother to share the happy news. “It took
her by total surprise,” Phillips told NBC News’
Janet Shamlian in a report that aired before the
live TODAY interview. “She was petrified and happy
and just … beside herself.”
But the jubilation
was short-lived. Crimm began to experience
terrifying symptoms: crippling headaches, tunnel
vision and tremors that shook her entire
She went to the doctor and got the devastating
diagnosis: head and neck cancer.
Video: To save baby’s
life, mom refuses chemo
(on this page)
“She called me
crying,” Phillips remembers. “She would say, ‘I’m
not going to live long enough to have this baby.’ ”
Crimm had a chance
at survival — if she chose to undergo chemotherapy.
But that might have put her growing fetus in danger.
She called her
brother to let him know that she’d decided that the
risk to her daughter was too great. “She said, ‘If I
have to make a decision, you know what that’s going
to be,’ ” Phillips said. “ ‘Don’t even ask. I’ve
lived my life.’ ”
Lauer he didn’t even try to dissuade his sister:
“Her mind was made up. It was pretty cut and dried.”
Crimm did her best to hang on so her little
girl would have life. But the cancer was
aggressive, and in August, Crimm collapsed in her
home. She was rushed to the hospital, where doctors
performed a C-section to deliver her little girl —
10 weeks premature and weighing just 2 pounds.
The baby was sent
to the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, in a
different building from where Crimm. NICU nurses
couldn’t imagine that a mother who had given so much
would never have a chance to see and hold her
baby.They put little Dottie Mae in an incubator and
wheeled her over to the unit where her mother lay
“It was just one
of those things you know you have to do,” one nurse
They placed the
little girl on her mother’s chest. Crimm watched her
daughter for a few seconds and then she “lifted up
her hands and just held her and just looked at her
and smiled,” Phillips said.
Crimm died three
Dottie Mae is now
living with Ray Phillips, his wife Jennifer, and
their six children, just as Crimm requested. She
didn’t have many special instructions on how she
wanted her daughter to be raised, but she did have
big plans for her little girl.
“She said, ‘I hope
this little girl grows up beautiful so we can put
her in pageants,’ ” Phillips told Lauer.
When Dottie Mae
grows up, how will Phillips explain Crimm’s ultimate
“I don’t think
I’ll have to tell her anything,” he told Lauer. “I
think she’ll kind of figure it out on her own.”
is a regular contributor to msnbc.com and TODAY.com.
She is co-author of the new book "The Concussion
Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic”