COEUR d’ALENE — Lucky baby No. 7, Samuel Frantz, has no idea how lucky he really is.
His dad, former Marine Dustin Frantz, survived war and near-fatal illness to be front and center when Samuel came into the world Monday afternoon.
"It’s a father’s prerogative to cut the (umbilical) cord, and to do that was one of the highlights of my life," Dustin said, from his own hospital room one floor above the Family Birth Center at Kootenai Health.
"He's a gorgeous baby," he said with a smile.
Dustin, 41, was diagnosed with severe necrotizing pancreatitis last fall and was in a coma for a month as his pregnant wife, Tori, and the rest of his large family waited on pins and needles to know if he'd be OK.
His mom, Cindy Frantz, explained that this form of pancreatitis "is the absolute worst kind."
"It shut down all of his organs except his heart, and it was a couple months later he had a cardiac arrest," she said. "But they pulled him through that."
No one knew what the future held as Dustin continued his fight.
“The doctors didn’t even know,” Cindy said. "Some of them weren’t sure he was going to even make it. He was so very sick."
Long before this unexpected diagnosis, Dustin, originally of Priest River, sidestepped death on the battlefield. He worked as an armorer in the Marines, repairing weapons and carrying gear for U.S. forces under attack.
"He had to carry all of the parts in his pack so when they were out in the field they were in a firefight that he could repair anybody’s weapon,” Cindy said. "His pack sometimes was 105 pounds, just the pack."
When deployed in Iraq, he was trained to jam radio signals. Insurgents had started using old cellphones to detonate improvised explosive devices and they took videos of when Americans were hit.
A Navy Seal team captured a cell of insurgents with one of these videos. They had targeted Dustin's unit, as evidenced by the footage of his team they possessed.
If not for Dustin's ability to scramble these radio signals, he wouldn't be here to tell the story today.
“Sure enough, it was our convoy driving by,” Dustin said. "I just am so thankful to the taxpayers who were willing to fork out $600,000 per jammer, because that’s the only reason we came home."
Dustin served in the Marines for just less than four years and served one tour in Iraq in 2007 and 2008. He came back to North Idaho and started a big happy family of six children, all younger than 10.
He stared down death yet again during his fight with pancreatitis, which shut down most of his organs at one point.
"They just couldn't believe that he would be so sick. They were surprised that everything responded so poorly," Cindy said. "But when the pancreas gets mad, everybody runs for cover. All the organs, they’re out of here."
Dustin is still on the mend, and was almost sent to another hospital for another month of care, where he wouldn't have been able to return to Kootenai Health for the birth of his seventh child.
“I’ve been there for all of my children, and there was a really good likelihood that I wasn’t going to be there for this one because of being discharged and what not, and it just happened to work out," he said. "I’m extremely grateful that I was able to be there and see my son being born."
His dad, Marty, praised the surgeons and doctors at Kootenai Health for "saving Dustin's life with the odds stacked against him."
"We're just really thankful that Kootenai Health had done such a good job keeping this boy alive," Marty said.
Dustin was wheeled back to his hospital room soon after Tori gave birth to their 7-pound, 2-ounce bundle of joy, whose middle name is his father's first name.
The mother and baby are doing fine, and Dustin is expected to be discharged from the hospital today.
And with one more baby to love, he's ready to get back as soon as he can.
"There’s nothing more that I look forward to than getting home with my family," Dustin said.