Community gathers to remember Kai Conroy
Help the Conroy family by visiting any 1stBank in the valley and donating to the Kai Conroy Memorial Fund, or mailing a check to 1stBank c/o Kai Conroy memorial fund.
EAGLE COUNTY — The memorial for local resident Kai Conroy will be Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at Terra Bistro in Vail. The public is welcome to attend and share memories of the mother of two who touched the lives, and bodies, of many as a longtime massage therapist in the valley.
Kai’s husband, Neil Conroy, said while his wife fought with all of her might, complications due to her myelodysplastic syndrome and its treatment led to her death on May 20. She was 35.
“She really loved her life in the valley,” Neil Conroy said this week.
The Conroys were introduced through mutual friends while attending a concert at the Sandbar in West Vail in January 2006. They went snowboarding together and were fast companions after that, literally.
“She could keep up, and we had fun from there,” Neil Conroy said.
They were wed in Wolcott in 2008 and honeymooned by driving a Corvette down the Oregon coast staying in tree houses near Cove Junction along the way. They spent their time staying active before having their first child in 2011, enjoying snowboarding and snowshoeing in the winter, and hiking and biking in the summer. They had a second child in February 2014. At the time, Kai Conroy felt fine.
Less than half a year later, she was diagnosed with cancer.
“The diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome was a complete shock,” Neil Conroy said. “It’s a disease that’s supposed to affect people over 65 or that have had radiation treatment for another type of cancer in the past. It’s not supposed to affect a healthy, 34-year-old mother of two who’s very active and eats well.”
Myelodysplastic syndromes are described on cancer.org as “a group of cancers in which immature blood cells in the bone marrow do not mature or become healthy blood cells.” The warning signs are tiredness and shortness of breath.
“Last summer Kai started getting really winded on our hikes, really tired all the time,” Neil Conroy said. “She was getting winded just walking around the neighborhood, which was strange because she was always in pretty good shape.”
The diagnosis came in August. The Conroys attended regular sessions at Shaw Regional Cancer Center for the next five months. In January came a glint of hope.
“We found out the cancer was in remission, so there was no more cancer cells in her blood stream,” Neil Conroy said. “But the bone marrow still wasn’t producing healthy cells, so we had to go to transplant.”
The bone marrow transplant didn’t go very well.
“She got severe graft-versus-host disease, which is where the donor cells attack your body as a foreign object,” Neil Conroy said. “It was attacking her liver, her skin. She had a rash and was all peeled. She got it in her eyes. It was attacking pretty much everything in her body.”
They tried a second transplant, but infections eventually led to a series of strokes that ended Kai Conroy’s life.
“We had far too short of a life together, but we enjoyed every minute of it,” Neil Conroy said.
He said after processing everything from the hospital in Denver, his initial thought was to take 3-year-old Gavin and 15-month-old Gretta and move somewhere where it would be easier to make it as a single dad.
“I wasn’t home for more than an hour before I realized that no matter what it takes, I have to stay in the Vail Valley — that’s home,” Neil Conroy said.
With hospital bills mounting, locals have banded together to create a support system for the family. You can help by visiting any 1stBank in the valley and donating to the Kai Conroy Memorial Fund or mailing a check to 1stBank care of the Kai Conroy Memorial Fund.
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