Julie and James Keown seemed to have a perfect relationship. College sweethearts, they met while attending William Jewel College in Missouri and dated for a few years before marrying in 1996 and settling in Kansas City, Mo.
To everyone who knew them, they seemed to be a perfect match: they complimented each other well, rarely fought and were by all accounts a happy pair.
Julie graduated with a nursing degree and started working as an ICU nurse before switching to work for a company that provides health care information technology. Although James never graduated, he landed a gig at a local radio station and then a job doing marketing for a nonprofit educational consulting group.
Anyone who met James was quick to note his charisma and charm. Friends such as former colleague Ellen Scheck were impressed. "JP liked the trappings of success. I mean, he had the Rolex, and the three piece suit. I saw him driving a Jaguar ... He was sort of, you know, the one you expected to watch and, and end up at the networks."
Those who knew him seemed to think James could accomplish anything. There wasn't much surprise when, in 2004, he announced to friends and family that he had been accepted into Harvard Business School on an academic scholarship. Scheck commented, "JP, that guy knew how to network, and if anybody could move up and move from broadcasting to Harvard, he's the one who could probably do it."
Although it meant leaving their close-knit family behind and moving halfway across the country, it was an opportunity that Julie thought the couple couldn't pass up. While Julie's father, Jack Oldag, was impressed that his son-in-law was apparently Harvard-bound, Julie's mother, Nancy Oldag, admitted to initially being less than thrilled about the situation.
"He was taking Julie away from us … I was like, 'Why can't you just get a degree from a college around here?' Even though I didn't want them to go, I was still proud," she said.
That winter, James and Julie relocated to Waltham, Mass., a city just outside of Boston. They had each worked out deals to work remotely for their employers while James attended Harvard. It seemed like a perfect solution, and the couple seemed on course to succeed.
But eight months after the move, the fairy tale began to unravel. Julie started developing flu-like symptoms that quickly worsened.
Then, on Aug. 20, Julie woke up with frightening symptoms that included slurred speech and dizziness. James took her to the emergency room at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. By the time she arrived at the ER, she was so incapacitated she couldn't even sign a consent form.
After a three-day stay in the hospital, Julie's condition was improving, but a battery of tests produced some disturbing news: Julie had chronic kidney disease and would sometime in the distant future need dialysis. Doctors also told her she would have a high-risk pregnancy if she were to conceive. It was major medical news for Julie and James, but even the disturbing diagnosis of kidney disease wasn't enough to account for the severity and sudden onset of Julie's symptoms.
Because her condition had improved considerably, she was released from the hospital.
Just two weeks later, on Labor Day weekend, Julie had another attack. This time her symptoms were even more serious. Once again her motor skills were severely impaired, and then, within a short time, she slipped into a coma.