ARLINGTON, Texas – A couple who fled the New Orleans area in advance of Hurricane Gustav will have to return home without their 7-month-old daughter, who died of a rare genetic disorder after becoming stricken at an amusement park.
Kaitlynn Foret suddenly stopped breathing at Six Flags Over Texas on Monday and was rushed to a nearby hospital, where she was later pronounced dead.
"I'm torn apart," her mother, Kerri Vidal, said Tuesday. "It's just the worst feeling in the world knowing you're not going back with your little one."
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office ruled Kaitlynn's cause of death was complications of Joubert syndrome with Dandy-Walker malformation.
Vidal said her daughter had been doing well recently, although she faced a host of problems since being in the neonatal intensive care unit the first three months of her life. Kaitlynn could not sit up, was on a feeding tube, had trouble gaining weight and sometimes breathed heavily, Vidal said.
But Vidal, who had learned CPR and took her baby to therapy at the hospital several days a week, said Kaitlynn kept exceeding doctors' expectations and was a joy to those around her.
"She had a little hair that was starting to come in, brown eyes and a cute nose, and we called her `gumdrops' because when she smiled all you could see was her gums," Vidal said. "She had one tooth, but she did not like to show you that tooth."
The extended family of about a dozen people and four dogs left their home just outside New Orleans last weekend, fearing they would be stranded in devastation the way many of them were after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They spent the first night in Shreveport, La., before deciding to stay in Arlington.
To get their minds off the hurricane, they headed to the amusement park, where the adults and older children had been enjoying rides and junk food before Kaitlynn's collapse.
Vidal said she does not regret evacuating their Harvey, La., home. Her daughter's death, while an unexpected tragedy, could have happened anywhere, she said.
"Right now, I just can't believe it," said Jason Foret, Vidal's fiance and the baby's father. "One minute she was here — the next minute, she was gone."