Military mother works to raise awareness of rare condition
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John Moak, left, and Caitlyne Moak spend a moment with their son Hunter before they took him off life support in June. Hunter died from a congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a rare birth defect.
In the month Caitlyne Moak was able to get to know her son Hunter, she discovered her baby boy was a fighter.
Moak, a 22-year-old military wife from Michigan living in Portales, gave birth to Hunter, her second child with husband John, at 1:54 p.m. on May 3.
His parents knew the odds were stacked against him because at a 20-week checkup, Moak was informed by her doctor Hunter was diagnosed with a rare form of Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia, or CDH, a birth defect of the diaphragm. Moak said the mortality rate for CDH is about 40-62 percent.
Despite chances being slim, Hunter was born and placed on life support immediately after his birth and airlifted to Dallas for treatment.
“From the very beginning, all the doctors and nurses had commented on how strong he was and how much will power he had,” said Moak. “He had the will to survive but his body just wouldn’t let him.”
Moak said her son had surgery on his hernia and that things went downhill from there. Days later, doctors told the couple there was nothing else they could do to help Hunter and on June 6, he was taken off life support.
“When we were taking him off the machine, the second we said he was ready, he smiled for the first time,” said Moak of Hunter. “It made us feel like we made the right decision.”
Before his birth, Moak was active in bringing awareness to the rare disease, which affects about one in every 2,500 babies. She even garnered support from the mayors of Portales and Clovis in recognizing CDH Awareness Day in April. Her son inspires her to continue to fight and bring awareness to others.
Since Hunter passed, Moak said her family has moved to Clovis. With the help of Central Christian Church in Portales, Moak had a garage sale benefit in Hunter’s name, selling the various items he never came home to.
She said she used most of the $1,000 raised to support CDH charities and research, with the rest covering expenses for Hunter’s cremation.
She added her son 3-year-old son Caleb has kept them going.
“I think we’re just going to keep telling people our story and keep raising money for (CDH awareness),” Moak said.
She thanks everyone who has supported her during the trying time, especially those who helped make Portales feel like a second home, including friend and former neighbor Tiffani Ridenour.
Ridenour said she first met Moak when they moved next door to them in base housing for Cannon Air Force Base.
Ridenour, a 31-year-old stay-at-home mother, said she’s known Moak for about a year now and has thought of her as a little sister.
“She got pregnant with Hunter and we were all excited,” Ridenour said. “We’ve always been close.”
Ridenour said it was in her nature to help the Moaks while they made their frequent medical visits.
“They’re so young to have gone through what they went through,” Ridenour said. “I can’t have anymore kids, so I joked she was having another for me. To see the hurt on her face when the doctors gave her the news, I felt that pain with her. It’s just heartbreaking.”
Ridenour said she too will bring more awareness to CDH as the cause has touched her life and the lives of people she care about.
“I always take the opportunity to tell somebody what CDH is and how it affects people,” Ridenour said. “Hunter was such a strong-willed baby. He was happy at the end. It shows how much he’s touched everyone.”