A Burbank man whose wife died shortly after she gave birth to their second son said he has been overwhelmed by the local community’s support and compassion in the wake of the tragedy.
Five days after having Colin James “C.J.” Burgess at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center on Dec. 30, Robin Burgess, 42, complained of a headache. Her husband, Chris, a 43-year-old graphic artist with Warner Bros., gave her ibuprofen and went to get lunch for the family. Upon his return to their West Chandler Boulevard home, he found his wife having a seizure and unable to speak.
PHOTOS: Chris Burgess with newborn C.J. Burgess
An ambulance rushed Robin Burgess back to the hospital, where a CAT scan revealed an 8.5-by-5-centimeter blood clot in her brain. Doctors performed surgery within the hour but Robin succumbed to the aneurysm, dying about two weeks later on Jan. 19.
FOR THE RECORD: A previous version of this story stated that Donald and Angelica Bender are neighbors of the Burgess family. They are former neighbors.
From the elation of birth to the loss of his wife of 11 years, suddenly Burgess was a single dad.
But he did not remain alone. Roosevelt Elementary School Principal Jennifer “Dr. Meg” Meglemre, where C.J.’s older brother Ethan, 10, attends, created an account on GiveForward.com to cover medical expenses and other needs. Though Burgess asked for $5,000, more than twice that amount, $11,365 has been raised, and more may continue to roll in.
Following email blasts by Meglemre and a local television broadcast, Burgess found himself awash in diapers, formula, blankets and toys. Co-workers from Warner Bros. showered the family with books, crayons and yet more toys.
“Roosevelt’s generosity is an understatement. We have tons of baby clothes and formula and toys and gift cards at a neighbor’s house. Co-workers brought coloring books and food,” Burgess said. “I knew I had friends, but I didn’t know I had friends with a capital ‘F.’”
Former neighbors Donald and Angelica Bender have helped watch over C.J. and Ethan since Robin was taken to the hospital. All those donations are being temporarily stored at their home.
“He’ll have wipies until he’s 18,” Angelica Bender said of C.J., who weighed 7 pounds, 3 ounces at birth.
As for the help from the dozens who have donated on GiveForward.com, Burgess said he isn’t able sufficiently to put his gratitude into words.
“How do you thank someone for that?” he said. “I guess it helps me see light at the end of the tunnel. I know I won’t drown in medical debt, even though maybe we’ll have to move to a smaller place.”
The outpouring of support didn’t surprise Meglemre.
“The reason I’m the team leader for the fundraiser is I’ve had parents contact me and say, ‘How can I raise money for their medical bills?’ As the principal, I’m the hub of the wheel,” Meglemre said. “As team captain, I see all the people who donated and I don’t recognize all of the names. It has spiraled beyond just our immediate community. People have posted and reposted emails from friends who have been touched by their story.”
One of those people is Debra Gilmore, office manager at Roosevelt Elementary. She said the entire 660-student school is saddened by the tragedy.
“We’ve all been pretty devastated, obviously not as devastated as Chris but we’ve all felt his pain,” Gilmore said. “Everyone who comes in asks about it. It’s very emotional. People have kept giving. Needless to say, he’s going to need it as a single dad. It feels really wrong that he loses his wife and then has to pay medical bills. Thank God for the community.”
Nate St. Pierre, director of communications for GiveForward.com, said his organization has 8,000 fundraisers on their website at any given time and raised $50 million last year for people needing help with their medical bills.
“I see stories like this every day,” St. Pierre said. “We see horrible things but a lot of love and support, too.”
As for Burgess, an unassuming, soft-spoken man, the future looks back at him when he gazes into his new son’s eyes.
“I just need to sort out day care and all those things. Luckily I live in Burbank and can come home and be with my newborn on my lunch break,” he said. “I’m just figuring out what I have to do now. It’s like, you look after C.J. or you do everything else.”
To donate visit GiveForward.com and type “Chris Burgess” in the search box.