FARGO — Employees of the pediatrics unit at Essentia Health Clinic on south University gathered in an exam room this week, watching 10-day-old Ava Bakken in awe.

One held the baby, while another wiped tears from her eyes.

Their co-worker, Alexandra “Allie” Bakken, 27, should have been there with husband Alin Bakken, 30, for the baby’s first well-child check.

As fate would have it, she was not.

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Allie Bakken died in labor at Essentia Hospital in Fargo on July 13 as a result of a sudden and rare pregnancy complication.

Miraculously, baby Ava survived, due to the flurry of medical interventions that occurred after her mother’s heart stopped.

 Essentia receptionist Sarah Stark holds Alin Bakken's newborn daughter, Ava, on Thursday, July 23, at Essentia Health-South University Clinic in Fargo. David Samson / The Forum
Essentia receptionist Sarah Stark holds Alin Bakken's newborn daughter, Ava, on Thursday, July 23, at Essentia Health-South University Clinic in Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

The events have brought a combination of deep grief and immense joy to a new father and widower, along with extended family and friends.

“We’re really happy for Ava, but at the same time, Allie should have been coming home,” Alin Bakken said.

A GoFundMe account has been set up on the family's behalf, in addition to a benefit account through local Bell Banks.

Seemed so right, yet went 'so wrong'

The couple met through a mutual friend, got married a few years later in Pelican Rapids, Minn., and moved to Fargo.

“It was just love at first sight,” Alin Bakken said.

He’s a production worker at Premium Waters, and she was a receptionist on the Essentia Clinic pediatrics floor, where she was known for her wide smile and friendly demeanor.

A cousin, Jennifer Larrieu, said Allie’s laugh was distinctive.

“I’ll never forget her laugh. Just very contagious,” Larrieu said.

Alin and Allie Bakken, of Fargo, are shown in late June 2020. Allie died during labor on July 13, while her baby, Ava, survived and is doing well. Special to The Forum
Alin and Allie Bakken, of Fargo, are shown in late June 2020. Allie died during labor on July 13, while her baby, Ava, survived and is doing well. Special to The Forum

Last fall, the couple was ecstatic to learn Allie was pregnant, as she’d previously had a miscarriage, Bakken said.

Except for having to take precautions for COVID-19, her pregnancy was uneventful.

“They did all the tests on her, she passed with flying colors. That’s the hardest. It’s like everything seemed so right, yet it went so wrong,” Bakken said.

Sudden complication arises

The couple went to Essentia Hospital the evening of July 12, so Allie’s labor could be induced. All went well until around 2 a.m. the next morning, when her water broke.

“Two minutes later, she flatlined. It was like the scariest moment of my entire life,” Bakken said.

His wife had suffered an amniotic fluid embolism.

According to Mayo Clinic, it’s a rare, life-threatening condition where the fluid surrounding the baby in the womb enters the mother's bloodstream.

The condition can happen rapidly, without warning, and symptoms can include clotting problems and cardiovascular collapse. It’s estimated there are between one and 12 such cases for every 100,000 deliveries, according to Mayo.

While doctors tried to save Allie’s life, other doctors scrambled to deliver her baby. Without their quick work, “we’d have lost her, too,” Bakken said.

He remembers a nurse and a chaplain walking into the room with news that his wife had died.

“Worst words I’ve ever heard,” Bakken said.

'She's guiding us'

Bakken never expected to go down this road of parenthood alone, without his “better half.”

“This is the first baby I’ve ever really held, so I’ve made really fast progress,” he said.

For now, he and Ava are staying with his parents on their farmstead near Pelican Rapids. Larrieu thinks he’ll do just fine.

“When I was there Monday, he was watching over Ava just like a new dad would,” she said.

Essentia receptionist Sarah Stark hugs Tammy Bakken, Alin's mother, on Thursday, July 23, atEssentia Health-South University Clinic in Fargo. David Samson / The Forum
Essentia receptionist Sarah Stark hugs Tammy Bakken, Alin's mother, on Thursday, July 23, atEssentia Health-South University Clinic in Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

The funeral for Allie Bakken is Friday, July 24 at Hope Lutheran Church, south campus, in Fargo. Burial will take place at Grove Lake Lutheran Church Cemetery in Pelican Rapids.

While his wife is no longer here, Bakken believes she is watching over her daughter and husband.

“She’s guiding us. I know she is,” he said.

Alin Bakken is shown with daughter Ava, who was born July 13 at Essentia Hospital in Fargo. Sadly, Bakken's wife, Alexandra "Allie" Bakken, died while giving birth to her daughter. Special to The Forum
Alin Bakken is shown with daughter Ava, who was born July 13 at Essentia Hospital in Fargo. Sadly, Bakken's wife, Alexandra "Allie" Bakken, died while giving birth to her daughter. Special to The Forum