PHX firefighters help family devastated by loss

Posted at 5:41 PM, Mar 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-09 13:04:19-05

As Tyler Dobbins prepares to return home to North Carolina, he is surrounded by a new family. They’re people he barely knew just three weeks ago: Phoenix firefighters who went above and beyond the call of duty to help a family in need.

Dobbins came to Arizona three weeks ago with the hope of life-saving surgery for his wife, Lauren. Diagnosed with a congenital defect called Pectus Excavatum as a child, Lauren found herself with a debilitating condition called thoracic dystrophy. The ribs in her chest cavity weren’t properly formed, forcing her heart and left lung to compress against each other. It made it hard for Lauren to breathe, and doctors told her she was living with just 40 percent lung capacity.

“Just climbing a flight of stairs, it was tougher and tougher for her. She would be wheezing for air,” Tyler said.

Lauren was just 33, and a mother to two young boys, ages 5 and 2. Doctors told her, without surgery she could be confined to a wheelchair and using oxygen. Left untreated, the condition would eventually take her life.

After searching nationwide, Lauren located a doctor at Mayo Clinic who specialized in corrective surgery for her condition.The Dobbins family raised money, and even borrowed from their 401k retirement plan to make the journey across country for the surgery.

Knowing she would need a place to stay, Lauren also arranged to rent a home for six weeks, and prepaid the landlord $7,000.  When they arrived, however, the landlord told them he couldn’t come through. At first, he said, the AC wasn’t working. He offered to pay for a night in a hotel. He promised to pay back their money, but then cited personal problems, including a divorce,  and cut off communication with them.

It was just three days before surgery.

Desperate to find a new place to stay, the Dobbins family put out the word on social media, and members of their church pitched in to help. That’s when Lauren stumbled upon a Phoenix firefighter with a home to rent, who offered to let them stay at no cost.

“It doesn't just stop at the fire station. When you see someone who's been wronged, you pretty much want to go after them,” said Kim, an engineer with station 60 who asked us not to use her last name.

Days later, Lauren underwent 10 hours of surgery.  In recovery, her heart suddenly stopped.  Doctors spent two hours trying to revive her.  While they were able to put her on life support, her brain had been deprived of oxygen.  Days later, Tyler gathered his two sons by his mother’s bedside. Hospital staff had combed her hair and dressed her so she could appear as they knew her. Each one of her “boys”, as she called them, took a few moments to say goodbye.

“Some days I don't know how I got thru the whole hospital experience and being by her side, but she was with me, and she always will be,” Tyler said.

Three weeks later, ABC15 visited the home to find an extraordinary scene. Several firefighters from Station 60 had gathered there, even bringing the fire house dog. The Dobbins’ two boys were dressed in tiny shirts which read, “Phoenix Fire Dept” on the back, just like the ones the firefighters wear  To take the boys’ minds off their loss, fire fighters even let them spend a day at the firehouse.

“The entire Phoenix Fire Department has just been Heaven sent,” Tyler said.  Dobbins says he now wants to return to Arizona each year, just to visit his new extended family at Station 60.

ABC15 also took action to try to recover the $7,000 the family lost when their landlord didn’t come through with the home.  Our Let Joe Know team contacted him, and an attorney for the Dobbins family tells ABC15, the landlord has agreed to pay the family back in installments, and has agreed to sign legal papers to that effect.

Tyler Dobbins tells ABC15, the extraordinary outpouring of support leaves him with hope, even in the midst of a terrible loss.  He has a long struggle ahead, raising two young boys on his own, but he says he’s never really alone.

“She knew me better than I knew myself sometimes,” he said. “She prepared me to be the motherly figure that she was, and to be a great father.”

Firefighters have also set up a Go Fund Me page to help the family with more than 150 thousand dollars in medical expenses.