Nicole and Dakota Roper experienced new life and nearly death within the first month of 2021.
Nicole Roper was nine months pregnant when she tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 9. She was admitted to the hospital 10 days later and delivered their daughter, Lakota, by emergency cesarean section. Nicole was released from the hospital several days later, but then returned when her oxygen level plummeted to about 50%. Doctors diagnosed her with a pulmonary embolism and told Dakota that his wife’s prognosis didn’t look good.
“I’ve been with my wife eight years,” said Dakota Roper, who along with his parents also became ill with the virus and have since recovered. “We’ve known each other since we were 19 and 18. I didn’t know if I was going to get her back.”
Throughout their harrowing experience, the Ropers received emotional and moral support from Barb Buhmann, an area life coordinator with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s new Pregnancy Care Program. Prior to Lakota’s birth, Nicole had been taking parenting classes through Thrive St. Louis. Her caseworker at Thrive connected her to Buhmann last fall for some extra assistance with living expenses.
“I wasn’t really looking for anything,” Nicole said. “I had a very difficult pregancy, and Barb ended up being an emotional support, moral support — an ear to listen. She calls me every week and we talk pretty regularly on the phone. When I first got her phone call, I didn’t know what to anticipate, but she’s definitely been hands on. When I got out of the ICU, she checked on me every day and sent me pictures or Bible verses and stories to try and uplift my spirits.”
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul Archdiocesan Council of St. Louis created the Pregnancy Care Program about a year and a half ago to support pregnant women. The program also extends its outreach to women who are at a higher risk of having an abortion.
Although the society has always helped pregnant women, the program adds another layer of support as it specifically connects with mothers through relationships with area pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes. Agencies include Birthright, Thrive St. Louis, Women’s Care Connect, Our Lady’s Inn, Defenders of the Unborn, and Good Shepherd Children and Family Services, a federated agency of Catholic Charities St. Louis.
The society coordinates the assistance through local parish conferences to ensure basic needs are met in a timely manner and support women throughout their pregnancy and afterward. Mothers in need are referred to life coordinators, who work directly with a mom regardless of a conference’s geographical boundaries. Those life coordiantors also coordinate with a mom’s caseworker at the referring agency.
“We help as many people as we can,” said Steve Rupp, manager of member support with the society. “But we came to the realization that some conferences can be overwhelmed when you get an average of 800 calls a month and just a handful of volunteers. We wanted to make sure that none of these moms coming to us with an unexpected pregnancy would fall through the cracks.”
In 2020, the Pregnancy Care Program assisted 87 pregnant mothers. Of that number, 27 moms were considering abortion, and 25 of those moms chose life for their babies.
Not all mothers helped through the Pregnancy Care Program are necessarily abortion-minded, Rupp said, but for those who are, time is of the essence. “If a conference has 800 calls a month, and a pregnant mother aproached them, we wanted to make sure that she didn’t have to wait for a couple of days,” he said. “That time can mean the difference between choosing life or death for her child.” The program also enables the society to provide ongoing support to mothers well after the birth of her child, which can sometimes be several years, he added.
Buhmann, who volunteers with the conference at Seven Holy Founders Parish in Affton, has been active as a life coordinator for about six months. She said she sees the work as something more than providing just tangible assistance, but about fostering what the society describes as “Vincentian friendship.”
“It’s more of a relationship that we’re building with the moms,” Buhmann said. “We do outreach to our neighbors in need and build relationships there, but this is different because it’s at a deeper level, connecting with them week to week or a few days a week.”
The connection sometimes goes beyond the relationship with the mom, extending to other members of the family. Buhmann also has gotten to know Dakota Roper and the couple’s six-year-old daughter, Sophia.
Dakota Roper described the relationship with Buhmann as “amazing. She didn’t have to help me and talk to me, but the things she has done for us have been amazing. She can get down and just help you out from a mother to mother and mother to husband point of view. She’s given us a lot of great advice and support.”
“The whole point of the society is to enable our Vincentians to grow spiritually, and to grow closer to Christ through their service to neighbors in need,” Rupp said. “Sometimes all they need is someone to talk to, and to know that somebody really loves me. Vincentians focus on spirituality, friendship and service — the material help comes last. We lead with our relationship and what we can do to help spiritually and emotionally in a spirit of friendship — and oh by the way, we’re going to pay the electric bill.”
Buhmann said she sees the work as a targeted effort to promote a support network for mothers, and hopefully in turn build up the family unit. “We can’t expect one group to do that all on their own, and we can help in this way,” she said. “When I talk to people, I can tell them that I saw God’s light in this. I can hear the laughter in Nicole’s voice now. The more I give, the more I recieve in watching all of this unfold.
“Her husband is a champion and is really putting it into high gear,” Buhmann said, and Nicole is finding joy in that as they recover from COVID. “They’re not losing hope, and that just shouted to me this is God working here.”
>> Providing help
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international Catholic lay organization dedicated to providing person-to-person service to all in need. Volunteers make home visits to those in need to provide services, including arranging utility, housing, prescription assistance and transportation needs.
More than 3,600 trained volunteers assist over 258,000 people and provide more than $10 million in direct aid to those in need in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in St. Louis is a nonprofit organization.
Donations can be made at www.svdpstlouis.org/donate. Checks can be sent to Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Archdiocesan Council of St. Louis, 1310 Papin St., St. Louis, MO 63103.