Science Makes A New Father Of A Fallen American Soldier




 
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February 12th, 2007  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Science Makes A New Father Of A Fallen American Soldier


USA Today
February 12, 2007
Pg. 1

Banked sperm produces a son: 'He's a blessing'
By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY
AUSTIN Seven-month-old Benton Drew Smith is the spitting image of his father, with the same blue eyes, fair hair and infectious grin.
Bouncing on his mother's lap in olive-green overalls and slippers festooned with lizards, he also holds a special place in history: He is one of the first children to have been conceived from sperm left behind by a soldier who was killed in battle. Benton's dad, Army 2nd Lt. Brian Smith, was shot by a sniper in Iraq on July 2, 2004.
"I've had some lousy luck in my life," says Smith's widow, Kathleen "K.C." Carroll-Smith, 41. "But he has worked out," she says, gazing into her son's eyes as he grins back. "He's a blessing. He is wonderful."
Benton was born July 14, 2006, a little more than two years after his father, 30, was cut down by a single shot while checking the treads of his Abrams tank in Habaniyah, Iraq, west of Baghdad. The bullet sliced Smith's liver, causing internal bleeding. His wife says she was told that her husband collapsed, muttered that he could no longer feel his legs, lost consciousness and died.
Death did not erase him, Carroll-Smith says. "I have a piece of Brian with me every day now."
How many children have been artificially conceived after their father's death in war is unclear; the Department of Veterans Affairs says it knows of two similar cases during the past three years. The commercial technology for storing sperm did not become available until 1971, so the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first in which a significant number of combat troops have been able to take advantage of the technology.
Participation remains small, relative to the number of troops in combat. About 100 troops make such deposits each year, according to officials at the nation's three largest sperm-bank companies Fairfax Cryobank in Fairfax, Va., California Cryobank in Los Angeles and Xytex in Augusta, Ga.
"This clearly is an area where medical technology has moved faster than most of our social thinking," says Dale Smith, professor and chairman of medical history at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Washington, D.C. He describes the practice as "an effort to take out a social insurance policy on mortality."
For the family of Brian Smith, the decision by his widow to become pregnant by in vitro fertilization on Oct. 29, 2005, was not without emotional turmoil.
Smith's parents, Linda and William Smith of McKinney, Texas, concede that they struggled at first to accept their daughter-in-law's decision. "There was hesitancy there in the beginning," says Linda Smith, 59. "It just didn't seem right or fair or something that Brian wouldn't be there to raise his child."
During Carroll-Smith's pregnancy, Linda Smith nonetheless remained supportive, both women say. When Carroll-Smith asked her mother-in-law for assistance late in the pregnancy, Linda Smith rushed to help prepare for the baby.
Smith's parents have since fallen in love with the baby. During the Christmas season, they took Benton to a Wal-Mart in McKinney to have his picture taken in the same sailor suit his father wore for a portrait when he was a child. The images mirror each other, Linda Smith says.
"Once you meet that little fellow," she says of her only grandchild, "you will think that there have been gobs of angels all over the place. He's absolutely the most adorable child."
Less certain is how the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs will view Benton. A child who is a legal dependent of a combat casualty is entitled under federal law to a range of educational, financial and health benefits.
No formal policy exists, however, in cases in which conception occurred after the parent died, says Lisette Mondello, a VA spokeswoman. In the two similar cases, the VA granted benefits, Mondello says.
Carroll-Smith has not yet requested that the VA declare her son a dependent of his father.
Carroll-Smith, who left her last job as a secretary in the intensive care unit at Seton Medical Center in January, says she urged her husband to deposit his sperm in a Fairfax Cryobank facility here about a month before he went to Iraq.
The decision had nothing to do with fear that he would die in combat, she says. Rather, it was for reasons that William Jaeger, Fairfax Cryobank director, says are typical of most military families that make the decision: a desire for wives to continue to try to conceive while their husbands are deployed, or a fear that a husband will lose fertility because of combat wounds or exposure to toxic chemicals.
Today, however, some families are also concerned about a husband not surviving combat.
That was what worried Army Staff Sgt. Stephen Sutherland, says his wife, Maria, 37, of North Pole, Alaska. She has two children from a previous marriage and had undergone a tubal ligation. She says Stephen Sutherland, 33, dreamed of fathering his own children and left behind a sperm deposit before deploying to Iraq in 2005.
He died Nov. 12, 2005, in the rollover of a Stryker vehicle in Al Qadisiyah, south of Baghdad. His widow became pregnant through in vitro fertilization last October and the baby is due July 17.
"I told him that if the worst should happen," Maria Sutherland recalls, "I would have this child no matter what."
Carroll-Smith says she and her husband absolutely wanted children. The couple had met at the University of Texas, where he was a student, she was a dormitory supervisor and both were members of a historical re-enactment group that specialized in pre-17th-century culture. They met one night when group members gathered to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation.
With his father's support, Smith earned a law degree at Baylor University law school in 1998 and practiced for a few years. He and Carroll-Smith married in 2002.
Smith, who had always admired the military and whose father, grandfather and an uncle had served, enlisted in the Army that year. He was deployed to Iraq in January 2004.
The couple's efforts at conceiving during the previous 18 months had failed, and Carroll-Smith wanted the option of continuing to try during her husband's deployment, she says. Eight years his senior, she feared she had little time left to conceive.
When she was 3 years old, a battery-operated doll had sparked and set her clothes on fire. She suffered third-degree burns over 45% of her body.
During the next 34 years, Carroll-Smith underwent 80 reconstructive surgeries, each under general anesthetic, and she worried that her body might no longer be capable of pregnancy.
On July 2, 2004, she was just about to begin the process of in vitro fertilization when the doorbell rang at the couple's home in north Austin. She remembers the time was 6:15 p.m.
As Carroll-Smith peered out the window, she could see a woman in a suit carrying a Bible. Thinking the caller was a Jehovah's Witness, she ignored the doorbell. But the two people outside, one of them a female military chaplain, kept ringing it.
In a ceremony July 10, Brian Smith's body was cremated along with a bottle of his favorite condiment Dave's Insanity Hot Sauce and a copy of a fantasy novel, Someplace to Be Flying. The ashes were buried in Smith's hometown of McKinney.
For two months, Carroll-Smith says, grief left her unable to function. Smith's parents were equally devastated. Then, as the fog of mourning began to lift, Carroll-Smith warmed to the idea of becoming pregnant.
After all, that had been her dream and her husband's. It also was an opportunity that might elude her as time passed. "I'm 40," she thought then. "This was kind of a last chance."
Fairfax Cryobank officials urged her to wait six months to ensure her choice wasn't impulsive. And her mother-in-law warned that raising a child as a single parent would be difficult.
Carroll-Smith describes herself as independent-minded. She owns the power tools in the family and was the craftsman. She waited four months.
The first attempts in October 2004 and June 2005 failed. Each effort at in vitro fertilization a process in which the egg is fertilized outside the body and implanted in the woman's uterus cost $10,000 to $15,000.
Moreover, the process was agonizing. Hormone injections to help her produce eggs caused intense pain in her joints, her back and her collarbone, she says. Miserable flu-like symptoms remained for two weeks. And then there were painful injections of progesterone to boost her ability to carry the fertilized egg.
She says she was almost ready to give up. "I kind of went back into more of a depressed state," she recalls.
When a final death-gratuity payout from the Pentagon arrived, Carroll-Smith saw it as an opportunity for one more attempt. This time, she was successful. The baby boy was delivered by cesarean section at 39 weeks. He weighed 6 pounds, 10 ounces and measured 21 inches long.
She gave him the name Benton a grandfather's surname and his father's middle name.
Cradling her son on a recent afternoon, she plays back the four phone messages her husband left before and during his deployment to Iraq. They are now keepsakes. In one, he takes a stab at singing a phrase from the Beatles' Michelle. In the last one, he sounds tired, and signs off with: "Miss you terribly. Love you. Bye."
As with every other wife or husband who has lost a spouse in war, the death seemed to bring each dream to a crashing halt. "When they told me Brian died, that was it. Everything ended," Carroll-Smith says.
Reproductive technology allowed her to cheat death, at least in one small way, she says. It also helped ease her grief. That's why Carroll-Smith urges military families who dream of children to do what she and her husband did.
 


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