Creighton University graduate Lisa Swinton McLaughlin had an enviable list of accomplishments.
She held a bachelor of arts degree in U.S. and modern European history, was a member of the Alpha Sigma Nu Jesuit Honor Society and won the Spirit of Creighton Award.
She graduated from Creighton’s law school and was a Nebraska special assistant attorney general for 13 years. She then graduated from the University of Kansas School of Medicine and became medical director for the American Red Cross in Baltimore, Maryland.
But for the last 30 years or so, she had one unfulfilled desire.
“She wanted what every other woman had, and that’s children,” said her husband, Mike McLaughlin.
After more than a decade of fertility treatments and in-vitro procedures, Lisa became pregnant last year. At age 56, she was expecting twins.
The pregnancy was uneventful — she got gestational diabetes, but her doctors in Maryland controlled it.
“She was very, very careful,” Mike said. “She did exactly what she was supposed to do.”
She started a month of bed rest in early December because the size of one twin was causing a blood-flow problem.
On Dec. 27, she gave birth by cesarean section to sons Jordan, 3 pounds and 3 ounces, and Dylan, 3 pounds. They were premature but healthy.
“She was just on cloud nine,” Mike said. “That’s the happiest I’ve probably seen her in my life.”
The babies remained in neonatal intensive care, and she went home on New Year’s Eve, though she still had significant pain. She thought it was from the surgery incision.
On Jan. 4, she died of a bowel obstruction.
Lisa, of course, had expected to see her babies grow into adults. Death, Mike said, “wasn’t even in her vocabulary.”
Instead, she only got a glimpse at motherhood.
“She held the babies and was able to stroke them and love them,” her husband said.
Lisa had an affinity for her fellow humans, especially children. She handled child abuse and neglect cases in the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office. She said she became a doctor because she had a desire to help more people.
A longtime friend, Omahan LaVon Stennis-Williams, remembered Lisa’s kindness when they met by chance at the Creighton bookstore. Lisa, a law student, invited first-day freshman LaVon for coffee and gave her college survival tips.
“We’ve been best friends ever since,” Stennis-Williams said.
Lisa Grace Swinton McLaughlin was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on Feb. 15, 1958. Her late father, Lee Vertis Swinton, was an attorney and a Missouri state senator, and mother Grace was an educator.
She joined the American Red Cross in 2006 and was promoted to senior medical officer in 2007 in the Washington, D.C., office. In January 2011, she became executive medical officer and had that job until her death.
Mike McLaughlin described his wife as bubbly, energetic and outgoing. She loved reading and horseback riding, though it was hard to find time for hobbies.
Stennis-Williams said Mike was the silent supporter behind Lisa’s career endeavors.
“He always encouraged her,” she said.
Now he must raise two infants without his beloved wife. The couple married in 1999 after meeting when both worked in Lincoln.
Mike, 67, a retiree, is now in Omaha for Lisa’s memorial service, set for 5 p.m. Thursday in Room 124 at the Creighton University School of Law.
Other survivors include Lisa’s stepsons, Tom of Overland Park, Kansas, and Robert of Omaha; and mother-in-law, Elizabeth Collins of Omaha.
Mike expects that, when he returns to Maryland, he’ll take Jordan home from the hospital and Dylan should be released shortly after. He’s hired a nanny to help care for them. Both babies now weigh more than 4 pounds.
Eventually, Mike said, he’ll move home to Nebraska, where his son, other family members and friends can help out. He still has ties to people he knew growing up in South Omaha.
Of course, nothing will replace the woman he didn’t expect to lose.
“My wife,” he said, “lived her life as stated by Maya Angelou: ‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive, and do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.’ ”
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