DANBURY, Conn. -- Amy and Jon Stellwagen’s new “rainbow family” includes four children ranging in age from 2 to 10, a sister-in-law and a lot of questions. The circumstances that brought them together for the Mamaroneck couple blended an emotional kaleidoscope of shock, tragedy, grief and finally, love.
Amy’s sister-in-law, Niki Newton-Cappello of Danbury, died suddenly on March 11. The 39-year-old single mother, a native of the Bahamas, complained of shortness of breath and chest pain on March 10. Doctors discovered a lung infection that led to internal hemorrhaging. She lost 2.5 liters of blood over the course of 30 transfusions as doctors searched for the source of the hemorrhage. Newton-Cappello’s organs shut down due to the loss of blood and infection, and she passed a day later.
“Doctors did everything they could and Niki fought as hard as she could,’’ Amy said. “It was the perfect storm. Her doctor said he’d seen only two other cases like this. She had probably not been feeling well for a while, and waited to get it checked out.”
Three daughters -- Gabby, 10; Reagan, 8; and Riley, 6 -- survived her, along with a sister, Tethra. Niki was also the godparent to Amy and Jon’s 2-year-old son, Chase.
“She was an incredible mother,’’ Amy said. “She was the classroom mother, the cheerleading coach, the mom who volunteered for lunch duty. She was very much involved in the St. Joseph’s (Catholic church) community.”
“Is this what we would have predicted? Not even a little bit. Is this the way we wished it would be? Of course not. But this is the gift God gave us." Amy Stellwagen
Newton-Cappello fought valiantly to survive. By the time Amy arrived, Niki was already unconscious. Her mother, Rose, and sister, Kizzy, rushed to Danbury from the Bahamas. Newton-Cappello passed surrounded by her mother, sisters, Amy and Amy’s father.
The question then became who would look after the daughters. Amy and Niki had discussed it previously, never thinking the need would arise.
“You don’t think it’s ever going to occur,’’ Amy said. “The girls are American. Niki wanted them here. That’s what they know and there was no one else capable of doing it. For Jon and I, it wasn’t a question. We said let’s start our life and we’ll figure this out.”
In the blink of an eye, the Stellwagen’s family of three morphed into a family of seven. They call themselves Team CSW -- Capello, Stellwagen and Wallace, which is Tethra’s last name -- and are preparing to move on as one family.
It is not going to be easy.
The family is living in Newton-Capello’s Danbury home to finish out the school year. The plan is to remodel the Mamaroneck two-family house owned by the Stellwagens into a single-family home. Amy, who works remotely, figures she will give up employment to tend to the children. Jon is the Director of Sales for TBR Global and the director of Jump on the WAGEN productions, which oversees endurance events throughout Fairfield and Westchester counties. Newton-Cappello’s girls and her sister hope to move to Mamaroneck later this year.
To help with expenses, the family has created a Go Fund Me page. Contributions will go toward the massive home renovation and establishing a college fund for Newton-Cappello’s three girls.
For now, everyone is transitioning into their new “Modern Family.” Chase, a cute-as-a-bug redhead, suddenly has three doting sisters. “He’s bummed when they go to school, and excited when we pick them up,’’ Amy said. “The girls are little rays of sunshine. The girls are smiling, happy with the decision. We know we’ll never be their mother. We try to make it as loving for them as possible.”
Amy said she and Jon desired a big family. The way it developed is certainly unusual. But with their golden hearts, faith and the support of their children and extended family, they know they can face any challenge.
“Is this what we would have predicted?” Amy said. “Not even a little bit. Is this the way we wished it would be? Of course not. But this is the gift God gave us. We take what we’re given and we make it work. We love each other and enjoy each other. A lot of people love those girls. We try to make sure they know that.”
Click here to visit the Go Fund Me page for Team CSW.