HIGHLANDS RANCH - Monday afternoon, surrounded by friends and family, Kate Criswell reminisced about the man she'd planned to marry.
Seven years ago, Criswell and Tom Alexander were living 850 miles apart. She was living in metro Denver; he in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Criswell, a personal trainer, had a client eager to set her up with him.
"I am not a person to be set up, but I took a chance on this one and I'm so glad I did," Criswell said.
She and Alexander first fell in love over the phone.
"I remember him keeping me up every night," Criswell recalled.
Two weeks ago, Alexander had plans to propose. They were supposed to start a family.
"He would have been the perfect dad in so many ways," she said.
What was supposed to be fell apart while Criswell and Alexander were hiking.
"About 45 minutes in, he started getting really dizzy," she said.
Paramedics rushed him to St. Anthony Hospital where doctors learned Alexander's heart was beating irregularly.
"Yesterday morning he just didn't make it," she said.
With Alexander gone, Criswell hoped to preserve his sperm so she could still have his child.
"It would have been a piece of him with me for the rest of my life," she said.
Criswell couldn't find anyone to perform the procedure in part because Alexander had no advance directive such as a living will or a power of attorney.
"They would say 'We've already heard this story from like five other people, but my hands are tied.'"
Dr. Ryan Westoff is a palliative care doctor at St. Anthony Hospital.
"It can be a challenge," he said. "We may not know who best understands that person."
Westoff says conversations about death are too rare.
"People have a misunderstanding that the default falls to the next of kin or spouse and that's not legally the case," he said.
"He's an organ donor," Criswell said. "I have text messages saying that hes committed to doing whatever it takes for us to start a family. His parents have given consent. But that's just not enough."
As she mourns her own loss, Criswell is hoping to change the future for other families. She plans to work with an attorney to begin the process of changing ethics guidelines and laws in the state.
"I think each hospital needs to have something in place and I'm going to make that my mission."
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