OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Every bride-to-be knows what it’s like to find the one and only wedding dress that makes them feel beautiful. Kaytie Joiner modeled hers just weeks before her wedding, but the ceremony never happened.
At the age of 27, Kaytie’s wedding was just weeks away. Her fun-filled bachelorette weekend with her wedding party took Kaytie to Galveston, Texas, for a bridal shower, a trip to the beach and a half marathon.
Kaytie crossed the finish line – and collapsed. Her mom, Delilah Joiner Martin, rushed to her side.
“And at that time, we just started praying. The ambulance came and they took her and us to the emergency room. We were greeted with, ‘We’re going to keep working on her, she’s a healthy young woman, she had no prior conditions that we were aware of,'” Delilah said with tears streaming down her face.
Despite being an avid, lifelong athlete, Kaytie had a hidden congenital heart defect that no screening or physical had ever detected.
“The doctor came out and said they weren’t able to get that heart started back, and that’s truly when reality hit us that there wasn’t going to be a miracle or a resurrection, or a rest of the story that we wanted, that happy ending,” Delilah said, at the crushing realization that Kaytie did not survive.
“I felt like I desperately needed a way to remember her, honor her, celebrate her life in a very positive and joyous way.” And Delilah did just that. Her baby girl also loved babies. Kaytie had always wanted to be a mom.
So, for the past seven years since her death, Delilah has made 20 annual gift baskets for babies born on Kaytie’s birthday, July 22, at Mercy Hospital, where Kaytie was born.
Delilah and Kaytie’s sister, Leigha Pemberton, shop for baby items year-round.
“We’ll be adding these little things to them,” Delilah said, pointing to a pair of booties. “Baby toys, teethers, that kind of thing.”
Her mission is called “Live like Kaytie,” and donations come in from across the country.
“This box came from Colorado, and they’re baby burp cloths,” Delilah said.
Volunteers gather each year to assemble the 20 packed baby baskets.
Jennifer Weber received one for her newborn daughter, Kylie, on July 22, 2016.
“This is the onesie that we got, I’ve kept it since my daughter was born in 2016. We have it in a little keepsake box just because it’s so sweet,” Jennifer said, holding the onesie.
Jennifer has donated baby items back to the Live Like Kaytie baskets ever since.
“To do something like this from a tragedy and to make it such a positive thing,” Jennifer said. That’s why she nominated Delilah for a $400 Pay It 4ward award from First Fidelity Bank’s Aubree Williams.
“This is such a heartwarming story of a woman who has turned personal tragedy into a life of service helping others, so we’re very honored to pay it forward to Delilah so she can continue helping others,” Aubree said.
When Jennifer and KFOR’s Heather Holeman rang Delilah’s doorbell, she greeted them with a shocked look on her face.
“For everything that you do for everybody, including myself, I’d like to, on behalf of First Fidelity Bank, I’d like to give you $400,” Jennifer said to Delilah. The two hugged while Delilah said, “That means so much to me… I just can’t believe it, I’m just overcome.”
Delilah hears from other moms, too, on her Live Like Kaytie Facebook page, where volunteers coordinate donations and recipients of the baskets post beautiful pictures of their July 22nd babies over the years.
“One of the commitments that we have towards these families and these July 22nd babes is that we pray for them. Not just once, but they are a regular part of our prayer life,” Delilah said.
As for Delilah’s own July 22nd baby, they buried Kaytie in that beautiful dress she loved so much.
“We couldn’t imagine anyone else wearing it, it was her dress. And she was looking forward to being that bride and wearing that dress.”
And the baby basket mission her mom created to help her cope with Kaytie’s loss, has done just that – replacing despair with joy, while honoring Kaytie’s memory.
“The tears anymore, I don’t want people to think they’re sad tears, they’re tears of joy from a grateful heart for a mom – I got to be her mom. What a blessing!” Delilah said, smiling.