Only 45, an Omaha mother of seven suffered cardiac arrest on Christmas night and died on Palm Sunday.
The coincidence of those dates on the Christian calendar is notable because Barbara Montgomery's family life has centered on faith.
Now husband David, 53, who is disabled and can't work, is alone in raising their children, ages 16 to 6. The family's ordeal, he said, has only strengthened his own faith.
“I can imagine some people having a hard time with something like this and turning from God,” he said. “But this has made me go toward Him because I needed Him.”
After battling weight problems for years and trying various diets, Barbara had undergone gastric bypass surgery, creating a smaller stomach pouch, eight days before Christmas. She was home for the holiday, which the family spent together, when the heart attack struck.
“She had just got the little ones to bed and sat down to rest,” David said. “It was sudden. There were no signs or symptoms, other than her weight.”
The couple met 20 years ago, in the days before Internet dating sites, through a Catholic newspaper's ad for singles.
Barbara had grown up in 2,500-population Herington, Kan., between Manhattan and Wichita, graduating as high school valedictorian. She earned a degree in chemical engineering at Kansas State and got a good job with Westinghouse in South Carolina.
David, who lived in Pensacola, Fla., wrote to her and she replied. After letters and calls, he visited, a dozen roses in hand.
“We were immediately drawn to each other,” he said. “We knew we would marry. We both wanted a large family.”
They ended up in Omaha, where he spent a year as an administrator for the Catholic group known as Intercessors of the Lamb. He then drove a school bus for 10 years but had to quit because of neuropathy, a progressively worsening problem with the nerves in his limbs.
Barbara had given up her career as a chemical engineer to raise a family and home-school the children. For the past five years she worked for West Corp., where her salary was $36,000.
“We were getting by,” David said. “With seven kids, we never had a lot but we had enough. We were always on food stamps.”
Like a lot of couples, their personalities differed — he was reserved, she was outgoing.
As her weight rose, they tried various diets, to no avail. She developed high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, and she finally decided on gastric bypass surgery.
In 2010, about 160,000 people in the United States had such stomach-reduction operations. The risk of death is less than 1 percent, and it can be affected by the severity of a patient's related problems.
“We were so hopeful,” David said. “We were going to start exercising.”
After she was stricken on Christmas, Barbara was unable to speak. She spent six weeks in a hospital and then was moved to a nursing home.
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
The family had health insurance through her job. David said hospital bills exceeded $400,000, not counting physicians' charges. The four youngest children started in public school last August, and a couple of others will do so for the next school year.
The kids are David, 16; Mary, 15; Therese, 13; Anne, 12; Michelle, 10; Joan, 8; and John, 6.
Their father said each has reacted differently to their mother's death. “Some don't cry and have a hard time expressing their emotions.”
Friends and family have donated to offset the loss of her income, and the family remain in their home. The monthly mortgage, interest and taxes amount to $940, exceeding David's Social Security disability check.
To benefit the family, the Knights of Columbus will sponsor a dinner and silent auction from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at their parish, St. James, 4710 N. 90th St. Donations are accepted at any Bank of the West for the Barbara Montgomery Fund.
“We've had a lot of lows and some highs,” David said. “The outpouring of love from people who have opened their hearts certainly makes it a bit easier.”
Contact the writer: