Petaluma mom who collapsed on Zoom remembered for her kindness
It took just one hug for Kawai Carvalho to know there was something special about EB Troast.
“That first day, that first hug, I could feel her kindness,” he said, it radiated from within, a warmth that seemed to define Troast for her friends and family. “It was clear there was something special here.”
The couple fell in love quickly, over a shared passion for community activism and giving back. They talked of children before marriage, clear in their conviction to build a family together regardless of tradition. They gave their kids the last name Coast, a mixture of their two names.
“We do things a little different,” Carvalho said. “We liked the idea of having our kids first. We always knew we would get married one day. Or so we thought.”
Troast was 20-weeks pregnant with their third child when she went into cardiac arrest while on a Zoom call on Jan. 11. As a sex educator, she worked with groups all over Northern California, creating programs like the “Be Real, Be Ready” safe sex initiative adopted by the San Francisco Unified School District. On that Monday, she was working with people who did not know her well.
“From what I gather, she passed out while on the call. She fell over. The camera fell over,” Carvalho said. “They didn’t know who to call.”
Carvalho was out of the house, taking the couple’s 3- and 1-year-old children on a walk along Ellis Creek. He wanted to give her privacy for work. But then came the call from one of her coworkers. At first, it sounded like the healthy, 37-year-old mother may have just fainted. Carvalho called 911, then asked a neighbor to check on her while he made his way back to the car.
“I was going as fast as you can go with two little kids,” he said. “It was a big chunk of time before any life saving measures got [to her].”
When he arrived, paramedics were already on scene, loading Troast into an ambulance headed for Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital’s trauma center. Her heart had stopped, but they were able to revive a beat. The emergency room was a blur. Because Troast tested negative for COVID-19, Carvalho was able to wait at the hospital. He headed home that night to be with his frightened children, who were left in the care of a cousin.
“That night, they called me and said she wasn’t doing well, and if I wanted to see her, I should come now,” he said, sparking a 1 a.m. run back to Santa Rosa.
On Tuesday, Troast’s mother Pat arrived. She described the cross-country flight from Florida as “pure terror” as she rushed to be by her only daughter’s side.
“I didn’t think anything about death, I just thought something horrible had happened,” Pat Troast said. “I needed to be with my grandkids.”
On Wednesday, EB Troast unexpectedly gave birth to their third child, who was stillborn at just 20 weeks. The news floored Carvalho.
“On the list of things they don’t prepare you for, that has to be up there,” he said. “I flew [to the hospital]. I got to hold that little one in my arms. I got to put them in her arms. That was the first chance I got to grieve.”
On Friday, an MRI showed extensive damage; it was clear Troast’s body was struggling to keep up the fight.
“They said we could go with critical care, which is life support and everything. Or comfort care,” Carvalho said. He choose the latter, and Troast died a few hours later.
“I miss my partner. I miss sharing the joys of being a parent to these kiddos,” Carvalho said, his voice thick with emotion.
Pat Troast remembers her daughter as the ultimate free spirit growing up in New Jersey. EB Troast was interested in everything as a child, from poetry to soccer to gymnastics to Girl Scouts. As the youngest, she was never shy about sharing her opinion, like when she gave up eating meat at the age of 10.
“The first thing that always comes to my mind when I think of my daughter is independence,” Pat Troast said, adding that EB was eager to see the world. “She wanted to go as far away from her hometown as possible without crossing an ocean, so that meant California.”
EB Troast bounced around a few Bay Area colleges, where she discovered her love of sex education. Passionate about health care and social support, she would make it her life’s work to help others. It is clear in dozens of comments from colleagues that she made an impact on the field.
“EB was the heart and soul of the education department at Planned Parenthood Northern California for over a decade,” wrote Jennifer Benedetti in the GoFundMe page set up for Carvalho, which as of Wednesday had raised more than $57,000 from 450 donors. “Not only did she teach thousands of students but she trained hundreds of teachers. Her impact is immense, perhaps incalculable. How could anyone add up all the classes she taught, all the young people she empowered, all the teachers she guided, all the grants she wrote, the programs she created, the words she elegantly crafted.”
It was through a sex education program that she met Carvalho in 2013. They hugged upon first meeting, that fateful hug that seemed to seal their future. A few years later, the couple welcomed their first child, Kaipo, a boisterous burst of talkative energy.
“We swear they’ve been talking since they were born,” Carvalho said, using the pronouns they/them for his child. “That first couple of weeks with a newborn, those were probably the best of our lives. Our hearts grew, we both physically felt our hearts getting bigger.”
Pat Troast said her daughter came to life as a mother. “I don’t think anything made her happier in the world,” she said.
Cramped in their tiny San Francisco apartment, in 2018 the couple moved north to a west-side house in Petaluma, near people Troast considered like family. Baby Nahele would follow the very next year, bringing a peaceful breath of fresh air to the family. “This kid is like calm,” Carvalho laughed. “They could just eat snacks and look at the trees all day.”
When the pandemic hit, the couple felt cooped up and a bit stressed out like any working parents with small children. But they wanted another baby, even as the world swirled in coronavirus chaos.
“Is it silly to have a third kid in a pandemic? Probably. But we wanted a third kid,” Carvalho said, adding they were overjoyed to find out she was pregnant at the end of the summer. “We knew it was going to be hard. But we would be in it together. Together, it felt like we could do it.”
Carvalho still talks about Troast in the present tense. He’s trying to process how to raise his young children without their passionate and thoughtful mother. He knows he’ll tell them lots of stories, about who she was and what she stood for. He plans to change his last name to Coast, like his children, in honor of her.
“I know I’ll be a good single parent, but I miss my partner,” he said. “Just hug your loved ones. So many things can change so fast.”