Beth Laitkep bravely battled breast cancer for two years. But after the disease spread to her brain, spinal cord and nervous system, the single mom of six and her doctors made the heartbreaking decision to stop treatments. That’s when Laitkep turned to her best friend Stephanie Culley with one last dying wish. “She was in her hospital bed and she said, ‘Can you do this? I know you will, but can you do this? Can you handle raising nine kids?’” Culley tells Us Weekly.
The operations manager — who has three children of her own — admits she was terrified by the request. “It was huge and I cried for days,” she says. “I knew that we were their only option other than foster care and I just couldn’t bear that. Me being a mother, I couldn’t fathom letting her die not knowing if her kids would be loved.’”
When Laitkep passed away on May 19 at the age of 39, Culley and her husband, Donnie, kept their word. Will, 15, Selena, 14, Jaxson, 12, Dallas, 10, Lily, 5, and Ace, 2, moved into the Culley’s Alton, Virginia, home, joining Cole, 10, Hayden, 6, and Calen, 2.
“I think the transition was made easier because they lived with us for a whole month before Beth died,” Culley tells Us. “It’s amazing to watch them mesh together. The girls like to sing and dance and our boys are doing boy things like going out in the woods and making trails for their four-wheelers. Everybody that meets them will say, ‘Wow, you folks are right. You fall in love with them instantly!’”
She continues: “The biggest fight is who gets to sit where in the car! I told them if we ever get a vehicle that can seat all of us at once, there’s gonna be assigned seats.”
On July 19, the Culleys were awarded permanent custody of the Laitkeps. “The kids were not in the courtroom, they were in a little side room,” says Culley. “As soon as we came out and locked eyes, Will ran over and gave my husband a huge bear hug. Selena about knocked me over. She ran straight into my arms and started crying her eyeballs out. We’re so relieved. Those babies have been so worried that they were going to get taken.”
Though Culley, 39, has been called an angel, she doesn’t see it that way. “I just did what God wanted me to do,” she explains. “I think anybody would have done what I did.”
A GoFundMe page has been created to help Laitkep’s children.
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