Still Standing – Times Publications, January 2010
State Treasurer Dean Martin suffered an unthinkable tragedy last May when his wife lost her life while giving birth to their only son, who also later died. He recently sat down with The Times to discuss the tragedy, and gathering the strength to carry on.
As Dean and Kerry Martin arrived at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea the afternoon of May 25, 2009, they stopped to take a picture. It was a moment to behold—the day that after 14 years of marriage the couple were to welcome their first child into the world.
The proud expectant parents smiled for the camera as Kerry clutched her pregnant belly. The two then went inside, and Kerry was admitted into the hospital room where, as part of the planned routine, nurses strapped a fetal heart monitor to her stomach. Everything was normal—the baby’s heartbeat was 163 beats per minute. He was a strong, healthy boy they planned to name Austin Michael Martin.
But something was wrong.
Although Kerry was experiencing sharp, intense stomach pains, the doctors told her she was not in labor. Nurses removed the equipment and sent them down to the emergency room. For the next six hours, a flurry of doctors and nurses buzzed around them attempting, unsuccessfully, to diagnose her condition. Kerry sat in a wheelchair, wincing in pain, while Dean paced the hospital hallways.
At 7:40 p.m., Dean was on the phone with his parents updating them on the situation when he heard something that made his stomach sink—the baby’s heart had stopped beating.
In an instant, the nurses were racing Kerry in a wheelchair toward the delivery room for an emergency cesarean section. As they sprinted across the hallway, Dean looked at his wife. He could see the fear in her eyes.
“Will I see her before you put her under?” Dean asked one of the nurses, wanting to calm his wife before the surgery.
“Yes, you will,” the nurse reassured him.
As they approached the last turn before wheeling her into the delivery room, Kerry glanced back at her husband. “I’m scared,” she said, her voice trembling.
Just then she was whisked into an awaiting room, the doors slamming shut behind her. Those were the last words Kerry would ever utter to her husband.
“I never saw her alive again,” Dean Martin recalls, his eyes welling with tears. “She never had the chance to see her son…while he was alive.”
By midnight Kerry Martin was dead. Two days later, their baby boy was gone too. Martin’s world, as he knew it, had ended.
Six months after the devastating loss of his wife and child, Arizona Treasurer Dean Martin sat down with The Times to tell his story of tragic loss, inspirational perseverance and new beginnings.
A Great Love
Dean Martin was a high-school senior registering for his first semester of classes at Arizona State University when he first noticed a pretty 18-year-old brunette named Kerry Mabey. With an alabaster complexion, curly brown hair, big brown eyes and a glowing smile, Kerry could light up a room. Dean, a business major, struck up a conversation over a Spanish class for which they were both registering. He was instantly smitten.
“She was amazing—smartest person I’ve ever known,” Dean says, smiling. “Very kind and classy, I mean just as classy as you can imagine.”
Kerry and Dean had a lot in common—including a love of politics. A New York native, Kerry had moved to Arizona as an infant and was a diehard Phoenix Suns fan.
“She was one of a kind,” Dean says. “She liked to help other people, that was her thing, and family was always the most important.”
Throughout college Dean and Kerry were inseparable. Their senior year at ASU, Dean proposed. They were married in 1995. That same year, Dean received his degree in economics while Kerry graduated from ASU with a degree in political science and was awarded the school’s highest honor, the Moore Award.
After college, Dean started a marketing and consulting company. Kerry eventually settled into a job with the City of Phoenix and was active in local charity work including water safety and financial literacy. Both Kerry and Dean remained active in politics, volunteering in Republican election campaigns.
Although Dean was a staunch Republican, he never intended to run for office. Growing up in a conservative family, Dean’s mother was a school teacher and his dad owned his own business.
“My family wasn’t rich or politically connected,” he says. “I never thought I’d ever run for office.”
Then in 2000, Dean was serving as a precinct committeeman while working on another candidate’s election campaign when that candidate was forced to drop out of the race.
“That’s when basically they looked at me and said, ‘Dean Martin is a good name. Why don’t you run?’” he says with a chuckle. “If I was named Jeffrey Dahmer, I don’t think I’d be in this line of business.”
Nobody thought the political newcomer had a chance, but he ended up winning in a huge upset victory. Over that term, he worked his way up to senate president, eventually becoming chairman of the financial committee, where he served for four years. While in the senate, he held the record for most bills ever signed into law, as well as the most bills vetoed, and was considered a very successful and influential politician. Dean created bills vital to reductions in property tax and the repeal of the death and marriage tax penalties.
“When they started having problems over here in the treasurer’s office, some folks came to me and said, ‘You should run for treasurer,’” Dean says. “I thought I didn’t want to do that…but as time when on, I started hearing about how bad things were at the treasurer’s office, and they really needed someone with financial expertise to clean it up and turn it around.”
Kerry was the one who finally convinced her husband to run for state treasurer.
“She said, ‘As long as you’re in the legislature, you will be judged by the least among you.’ I thought, ‘Wow, that is profound,’” Dean recalls. “I decided to go ahead and do it, and I’m glad I did. I wouldn’t be in elected office, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today, without her.”
In 2006, Dean was elected as state treasurer, a position which put him second in line of succession to the governor.
After settling into his new position, the Martins decided it was time to start their family. In late 2008, Kerry learned she was pregnant. They were both overjoyed.
“We had always wanted to have kids,” Dean says. “We found out it was a boy. She wanted that more than anything. She was so happy.”
For the next nine months, Kerry reveled in being an expectant mother, and Dean was right by her side, attending every birthing class and ultrasound. They shopped for baby clothes and converted a spare bedroom in their north Phoenix home into a nursery, redecorating three times before finally settling on the theme based on the Disney movie “Cars.”
By May, they were prepared for the arrival of L.T.—or “Little Treasurer” as the baby became known. It was one of the happiest times in their lives.
Finally the wait was over. It was Memorial Day weekend, and Kerry’s May 30th due date was near. On the morning of May 25, Dean attended a Memorial Day service at the National Memorial Cemetery, as he does every year. Arizona senator and former presidential candidate John McCain sat beside him, and they chatted about fatherhood.
“I told him if I get a phone call in the middle of this, I’m getting up and leaving,” Dean recalls. “My wife’s due any moment.”
After the ceremony, at around 10:30 a.m., Dean went home, and he and his wife talked one last time about baby names.
“We had a short list,” Dean says. “Kerry really liked the name Austin, but she wanted to see him first. She wanted to make sure he looked like an Austin.”
Suddenly, Kerry began experiencing severe abdominal pains.
They rushed to the hospital, arriving at 1:30 p.m. Six hours later, when hospital staff realized the baby had no heartbeat, Kerry was taken into the emergency room for a caesarian section. Hurriedly, Dean threw on his surgical gown while the nurse reassured him once again he would get to see his wife before they sedated her.
He never got that chance.
Because the baby was born without a heartbeat, Dean wasn’t allowed back into the emergency room. Standing outside the delivery room, he says he knew something bad was happening, but no one would give him any answers. As the knot in his stomach grew, Dean heard an emergency order for blood on the overhead speakers. Then the head of the hospital arrived.
“It seemed like an eternity before they finally told me what was going on,” he says. “Finally, they bring me over and they say, ‘Your wife’s still bleeding but stable. We need to talk about your son.’”
The doctors told him that Austin had been born at 7:59 p.m., but it was a full 10 minutes before the baby’s heart began beating. His blood flow had been cut off for too long—the damage to his brain was irreparable.
“The fact that he didn’t have a heartbeat, he was well beyond severe. They were not getting indications of brain activity at the time,” Dean says. “At this point I’m at my son’s bedside thinking they’re just finishing up with my wife.”
Baby Austin was transferred to Phoenix Children’s Hospital in an attempt to save what was left of his brain. Meanwhile, Kerry’s obstetrician arrived, examined her and realized she was bleeding, but it wasn’t in her uterus. Puzzled, the obstetrician reviewed Kerry’s medical records and discovered she had an ademona, or benign tumor on her liver, caused by increased levels of estrogen. It had been diagnosed a year prior, at the same hospital, when Kerry had gone in for gallbladder surgery. None of the medical personnel had recognized the symptoms, Dean says.
“They never had really addressed it until that point. By then, she had been bleeding for hours,” he says. “That’s why she was in such severe pain. She was essentially bleeding to death.”
A trauma surgeon was brought in as Kerry was prepped for emergency surgery. Before the surgery began, the doctor pulled Dean aside and told him a healthy patient, under a scheduled recession of the liver, has only a 50-50 survival rate. “I have no idea what the survival rate is under this scenario,” the surgeon told him.
Dean felt like the ground was crumbling beneath his feet.
“And that’s the point when I knew, I was likely to lose her,” he says, his voice breaking.
Kerry never woke up. She died shortly before midnight at the age of 34, never having seen her son. Immediately after saying goodbye to his wife, Dean drove to Phoenix Children’s Hospital to be at his son’s bedside. After a second brain scan determined Austin had no brain activity, the baby was taken off life support, and Dean had the chance to hold his son for the first—and final—time.
“I got to give him a little bath,” he says, recalling his final moments with his son. “I got to shampoo his head. At one point they go to turn his head and he stops moving.”
Austin Michael Martin died that night in his father’s arms.
In the days and weeks following the death of his wife and son, Dean couldn’t help but feel how the loss seemed so senseless. He believed his wife and son may still be alive if hospital staff had recognized the warning signs and acted faster. Later, he hired a legal team to investigate their deaths to see if anything could be done to prevent future tragedies.
“Although her specific condition was somewhat rare, the fact that you could have had a potentially life-threatening condition and it wasn’t addressed—it could have been any condition,” he says. “She basically slipped through the cracks in the system.”
Keith Jones, spokesman for Scottsdale Healthcare Shea, said he couldn’t comment on the case due to federal privacy laws.
“Our hearts go out to the family. As compassionate caregivers, we all grieve when someone suffers a loss, and we do empathize with all families who are going through the grieving process,” Jones says. “We take all of our patient care personally. As caregivers we do our best to provide compassionate care to every single patient.”
Six months after the devastating loss of his wife and newborn son, Dean Martin still wears his wedding ring. His desk at the State Capitol building is covered with pictures of his wife and son. To Dean, Austin will always be just three days old.
In the past several months, there have been times when Dean is overwhelmed with grief, but somehow he has found the strength to go on.
“You really have two choices: do nothing or keep going. I have to keep going. People depend on me. Kerry wouldn’t have wanted me to stop. She would have said, ‘I’ve worked too hard, we’ve sacrificed too much to stop now,’” Dean says. “I kind of look at it like I was blessed for 13 years.”
In the past few months, he has found comfort by immersing himself in his work.
“Fortunately, I’ve had lots of family around to help, and lots of supporters and lots of friends,” he says. “And to some degree this financial mess has kept me pretty busy too. It’s not easy, but it’s gotten easier.”
Today, he’s been forced to redefine the idea of his future. It’s not the future he wanted, or expected, he says, but he has no choice but to continue on. That future could possibly include running for the state’s highest office. Recently, a grassroots campaign was launched by a group of Dean Martin supporters to draft Dean for a run at governor. He calls the support “humbling,” and said it is something he may consider.
“It’s ironic, because that’s what Kerry always wanted,” he says. “She looked at that for us down the road.”
These days, though, Dean’s focus is on keeping his wife’s legacy alive. In the days after losing Kerry and Austin, Dean formed the Martin Family Charitable Foundation (martincharities.org), to continue his wife’s charitable efforts.
“Most people had no idea about the charitable work my wife was doing with water safety and financial literacy,” Dean says. “After she passed everyone wanted to know more about her, and you can’t talk about her without talking about what she spent most of her life doing. She was taken too soon, but there’s no reason that while she’s gone, her work can’t continue.”
For now, Dean Martin finds joy in 14 years of cherished memories and precious photos, including the picture taken outside the hospital that afternoon of his son’s birth.
“I miss her,” Martin says with a sigh. “But she’s not really gone. I know she’s up there. I have two little guardian angles.”