Sergio Tapia: My Life With and Without Ashley

October 31, 2015

Ashley Smith Tapia heading to her cousins wedding, May 2012. Photo by S. Tapia
Ashley Smith Tapia heading to her cousins wedding, May 2012. Photo by S. Tapia

“Ashley was the most beautiful person I ever met.” Sergio Tapia says of his wife, Ashley, whom he lost to a heart disease called Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia (ARVD) less than 3 months ago. Sergio is still working to process exactly what happened, since it all happened so fast. His beautiful, vibrant wife and mother to his five children was the love of his life.  She was just 28 years old and lost her life to a heart disease that she did not know she had, and that several cardiologists over the last couple of years did not catch. Now he has to raise their children, Cristian, 10, Thalia, 6, Selena, 4, Manny (Sergio Jr.), 2, and baby Joseph, now 7 months old, without her.

Sergio met Ashley when he was 19-years-old and she was 17. It was love at first sight and it did not take them long to realize that they were meant to be together. She became pregnant shortly after they met, and they had their doubts, but through communication, perseverance, and an unshaking faith in their religion, they made it through the struggles, a few tragedies, and 4 more pregnancies, continuing to love each other as much as the day they met.

Sergio and Ashley moved around quite a bit in the beginning. Ashley was the reason for that, with her being the “gypsy” in the family. They moved first to S. Carolina then on to Pennsylvania, then back to Florida again. Things went well for them after they returned to Brevard County, Florida where they met. Sergio found a good job that would support his family, which would allow Ashley to stay home and raise the kids, which they preferred.

Then tragedy struck when Ashley’s twin brother Joseph “Joe” Smith passed away on his way to work in October 2013. He fell asleep in the van as he usually did on the way to his construction job in Central Florida, riding along with several other co-workers, but on that day, he never woke up. The autopsy revealed he passed away from a heart attack. Ashley, Sergio, and Marianne “Maggie” Germane, Ashley’s mother, were devastated. Ashley especially was heartbroken; she had lost her twin, her womb mate, the other half of her soul. She was different after that, “her smile changed,” it was never again as “bright as it used to be.”

Ashley, Maggie, and Joseph were very close. Maggie, who had health issues, lived with Ashley and Sergio, which benefited the whole family; Maggie helping with the children, and Ashley taking care of Maggie when her medical issues warranted it. Joe never lived far from them; Sergio called him brother and treated him as such. They were a very tight knit family, and all were shocked when they lost Joe with no warning.

The biggest shock, though, came almost two years later when Ashley, in the early hours of an August morning, suffered a seizure, then a heart attack due to a heart weakened by the disease ARVD. Sergio works nights and walked in on a scene from a nightmare, his wife lying grey on their bedroom floor. Maggie performed CPR until the paramedics arrived, having once been a paramedic herself, but even though they were able to revive Ashley at the hospital, she had been down too long, and after much anguish, anticipation, and hope, 3 days later the doctors pronounced her dead. Sergio made “the hardest decision of his life” because he “knew it would be what Ashley would have wanted, what Ashley would do,” and decided to donate his wife’s organs to those whose life would forever be changed by his act of generosity during such a time of sorrow and confusion over the events of those last few days. Subsequently they had to suffer through another 3 days of hoping for a miracle while they waited for the recipients of Ashley’s last gifts to the world to be prepared for those gifts. It was a heartbreaking experience, but one that Sergio will never regret.

There are a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. Ashley and her twin brother were born premature and placed on heart monitors. Doctors diagnosed Ashley with ARVD when she was twelve, but given a clean bill of health by several cardiologists as an adult. Ashley visited her cardiologist and had tests done on her heart after losing her brother and knowing their history, with no negative results. Sergio and Maggie have obtained a lawyer to review their case. Nothing will ever bring Ashley back, but they hope to at least accomplish no one else having to live through the same experience they have.

Maggie’s anguish is evident over the situation, “I really miss my daughter, I haven’t figured out how to live without her.” Sergio is still working nights, so Maggie, even with her health issues, is getting up at 5 AM to get the 4 oldest ready for school and daycare. Baby Joseph, named after his deceased uncle, was breastfeeding, so they have been dealing with the transition, with Maggie having to get up during the night for feedings while Sergio is at work. Sergio’s mother Ana helps out by taking the kids on the weekends, and more recently, baby Joseph remaining with her every other week for a week at a time in order to alleviate the stress on Maggie. This was a recent decision that Sergio agreed to, as he rather “keep the kids together as much as possible,” especially during the adjustment period, for all the kid’s sake.

Maggie, or as he affectionately calls her, Moog, and Sergio are working together to deal with the grief and loss of the person they loved most in the world, all while also having to deal with talking to the kids about death, where their mom went, and why she is not there anymore. Maintaining a schedule and balance in their lives with the person who was the nucleus of their family now gone has also been a daily struggle for all of them. However, they continue to persevere with the continued love, support, and help from their family, friends, church, and even complete strangers who have donated to their cause through a GoFundMe page set up by Ashley’s cousin.

Ashley will continue to live on in the family’s memories, and through the lives of her 5 beautiful children. Moving forward without her, Sergio will have to take each day as it comes, working, loving his children, dealing with the bills, the house, coping with his grief as best he can. But hopefully each day he will be strengthened and renewed by his faith, his family, and those who love and care about him, just as he did when he had Ashley by his side.

If you would like to make a contribution towards helping the Tapia family, or read more of their story, visit the GoFundMe page for Ashley’s family at https://www.gofundme.com/ashleytapia, or you may contact the author of this article at iamjessana@gmail.com. Prayers for this family are always welcome.

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