NASHVILLE — Just before 2:40 on Tuesday morning, Christian music artist Nathan Johnson and his wife Megan welcomed their first child Eilee Kate.
Still in her hospital bed, Megan Johnson held, fed and burped their new daughter. Giddy with excitement, the musician said he couldn't sleep at all that night.
Right after Eilee was born, the new father sent pictures of his wife and daughter celebrating the newly expanded family to fellow Christian artist Josh Wilson, who he had been performing with days before. But the celebration took a tragic turn when Megan started having complications later Tuesday morning. Wilson received a text message from his friend, asking for prayers.
"Of course we didn't know what it meant, so we stopped what we were doing and just prayed." Wilson said.
But in a few hours, by 11 a.m., the new mother had passed away from pregnancy-related complications. Eilee was a little over 8 hours old. Doctors are unclear what caused her death, Wilson said.
On Wednesday, Johnson took his daughter to their Nashville home for the first time, surrounded by friends and family helping the new father cope with the loss of his wife.
Wilson and a close circle of friends and relatives sprang into action. Wilson created a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $300,000 from over 6,000 donors in less than 24 hours.
Christian artist Francesca Battistelli, after visiting Johnson once he got home Wednesday, said he is going through “a range of emotions.”
“He’s so over the moon for his daughter, but you can see grief has hit him at the same time,” said Battistelli, a Grammy winner who had Johnson play in her band for more than 30 gigs in the last year.
Battistelli said her guitarist friend is surrounded by dozens of friends and relatives, and they have volunteered to get food, run errands, cut his lawn, buy diapers and do other things to support Johnson and his new baby.
“It’s a beautiful thing to see,” she said. “It was amazing how many people were surrounding him.”
Battistelli, six months pregnant with her fourth child, saw Megan Johnson just a few weeks ago at a Christian radio event.
The two expectant moms compared belly bumps and talked about the challenges of being pregnant, Battistelli said.
But “she was so excited to meet that baby, and she had her name picked out and talked all about that,” Battistelli said.
Wilson has never known Nathan Johnson without Megan. When the musicians met six years ago, the couple was already engaged and was married shortly after. Johnson is a people person, Wilson said, who plays in the band, Meaning Machine, and adored his wife.
"Meg was his everything," Wilson said, "he doted on her in a way like I've never seen a husband do."
Wilson was among the over 30 family and friends to help support Johnson following the tragedy. A group text message with friends quickly turned into a massive fundraising effort.
After raising $12,000 through that small group, Wilson figured there might be others who wanted to help. "I bet his out-of-town friends would want to help, but I don't have their numbers, so I created a GoFundMe page."
The original goal was $40,000 to give Johnson at least 6 months away from touring to cover bills and other expenses. But after raising thousands of dollars in just hours, Wilson raised the goal to $100,000.
Then, he raised it again to $150,000.
Wilson now hopes to raise $400,000. Most of the donors have given less than $30.
"He wept when he heard," Wilson said of Johnson learning about the money.
Since launching in 2010, the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe has raised more than $3 billion through its users' campaigns. That has included many members of Nashville's music community. Recent successful campaigns have benefited Nashville guitarist Todd Austin, who lost his home in a fire, and musician Jon Latham, who was in recovery from extensive surgery.
“(Megan) gave her ultimate donation to her daughter, but she's also help saving 52 lives. That's unbelievable.”
Johnson is still sorting through the loss, but, Wilson said, their shared Christian faith has helped guide him.
"Nate is a believer in Jesus," he said. "We have grieved in hope, but we believe Meg is with Jesus and one day we will be too, so that is how we grieve with hope."
A funeral is planned for Megan Johnson in St. Louis on Sunday.
She was a heart transplant recipient and a strong advocate for organ donation. Wilson said her eyes will go to help the blind and other organs will help save over 50 lives.
"She gave her ultimate donation to her daughter, but she's also help saving 52 lives," Wilson said. "That's unbelievable."
Every new round of visitors brings a new round of tears for the grieving father as he shares the story of their life together.
"A year from now, this might be out of their memory and that's OK, but their money will still be helping him," Wilson said.
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