'Dominique was love': Girl saved by groundbreaking surgery dies unexpectedly
The bright red envelope with the "all is calm, all is bright" holiday stamp gives no hint of the heartache inside.
"It is with deep sadness and grief that I share the news that our sweet and beautiful Dominique has died," reads the year-in-review letter from Nancy Swabb, the Chicago mom who welcomed the toddler from the West African nation of Ivory Coast into her home before and after a successful life-changing surgery in 2017 at Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge. "It's hard to believe, I know. Dominique was love."
The relationship between Swabb and Dominque was celebrated last Mother's Day, which was Dominique's second and final birthday, with a feel-good Daily Herald column explaining the bond between Swabb and the happy and healthy active kid with a smile that spanned two continents.
"I just fell in love with her," Swabb said of Dominique then. "I feel we will have a bond forever."
Expected to have a long life after her successful surgery, Dominque developed a high fever in her Ivory Coast home and died a few days later on Oct. 29, 2018. The Swabb family sent Dominque home with mosquito netting, but Swabb says, "We suspect that malaria took her life." The mosquito-borne illness killed 435,000 people worldwide in 2017, most of them children younger than 5, according to the World Health Organization.
"We want to keep her story alive, her spirit," Swabb says of Dominque. "She really made us all feel so good."
Borrowing a concept and a hashtag used last year by her friend Jen Kramer, the director of university events at DePaul, Swabb is using #yearoflove and #dominiqueislove to highlight kindhearted and inspiring people on her Facebook page throughout 2019.
Swabb says she, her husband, Tim, and their daughters Lena, 16, and Mara, 11, got so much joy from their relationship with Dominique and the girl's family members, who still keep in touch online. "I will always consider you my sister and we will be connected forever," Dominque's father told Swabb.
Swabb, a marketing expert and event planner who served as an infant-care volunteer for a decade at a Chicago hospital, first saw Dominique's story on the website for Children's Medical Mission West, which arranged Dominique's medical care in the United States. Swabb and her family hosted the girl before and after her groundbreaking "miracle" surgery.
Born with an extremely rare condition in which a twin stops developing during gestation but fails to separate from the other body, Dominque endured a six-hour surgery to remove the bottom half of the twin's body -- the waist, spine, bladder, two moving legs and feet -- protruding from Dominique's neck and back.
"It's why we go into medicine," Dr. John Ruge, the pediatric neurosurgeon who led the Advocate Children's Hospital team that cared for Dominique, said at the time. "I'm just really proud of our team. I have a lot of rewarding cases, but this one is unique. She's a happy little girl, walking around and normal."
After Dominique's death, the hospital issued a statement. "Our hearts are broken at Advocate Children's Hospital," began the notice. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Dominique's family and the Swabb family of Chicago, who served as Dominique's host family during her surgery and recovery. Dominique touched all of our hearts."
Posting good news daily in Dominique's memory is the way Swabb keeps the girl in those hearts. "I want to have that little moment of happiness every day," Swabb says. "I'm doing it because there was so much good and so much love that came out of it."