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Thomas says that although they lived apart, she fully expected to marry Dawan. "In a way I wanted to give him a home," she elaborates. "I pictured us being a solid, stable family like the one I grew up in. I thought someday he'd be 40 and have a good job and be a good father.
"I also had this idea that I was going to die young," Thomas adds. "I was rushing my life."
After three days the baby emerged from his coma at Cardinal Glennon. "Dawan came up with 'Christian,'" Thomas says of the name they gave their first-born. "I liked it. I thought it was fitting."
Citrullinemia is transmitted via a recessive gene and affects just one in sixty thousand babies, according to Dr. Dorothy Grange, Christian's geneticist since birth. She says Christian became only her second patient with the illness.
Owing to medical privacy laws, Grange can't comment specifically about Christian's condition. But speaking in general terms, the doctor says the illness has no cure and life expectancy is difficult to predict. "This is a life-threatening illness, a constant threat," she emphasizes. "At any moment a person with this disorder could be at risk of death."
In a sworn deposition in 1998, Grange would rate the severity of Christian's case "a nine or ten" on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the most severe.
Theda and Dawan received intensive training, both to administer the six oral medications Christian needed several times each day and to carefully calibrate his meals. They were taught to watch for vomiting, loss of balance and confusion — signs to call a doctor or get their boy to the hospital.
"This baby was like a living, loving science project. I had to hold him a special way to get the syringe in his mouth so he'd take the medicine," Thomas says. "I had a little system down, where I'd give him a little grenadine and sugar to kill the taste. And eventually it got to the point where he took it all by himself in a cup. If he threw up, I'd have to call the doctors and tell them how many cc's he lost."
Thomas recalls that the prognosis for Christian was cautiously optimistic, that with monitoring and medication, he could develop normally and, when the time came, attend school.
"I remember the doctors kept saying that by the time Christian reached ten years old, they could do genetic therapy to possibly give him the gene he was lacking," Thomas says. "My goal was to keep him as healthy as I could to get him to that point."
After they brought Christian home, Theda and Dawan moved into an apartment in south St. Louis. Thomas says that when she insisted on marriage, Ferguson demurred at first but ultimately capitulated.
A letter from Dawan's mother that is on file in U.S. District Court gives a different account.
"He was dogmatic about getting married [when Thomas became pregnant]," Dawana Steffen would write in 2005. "I tried to dissuade him because he was young and he could care for the baby without marrying but he wanted what he thought was best for...Christian."
(Dawan Ferguson's attorney, John Rogers, declined Riverfront Times' request to interview Ferguson for this story.)
Theda and Dawan tied the knot at a small ceremony in a north St. Louis church on Valentine's Day 1994, four months after Christian's birth. Eight months later the Fergusons brought a second child into the world, a healthy baby boy they named Connor.
The following year KSDK-TV (Channel 5) aired a flattering feature about the young couple and the rigor with which they approached Christian's fragile condition. "Doctors say if he sticks to his diet," proclaimed then-reporter Kay Quinn, "he could have a normal life."
View the KSDK-TV report at dailyrft.com/christianferguson.
By 1997 the Fergusons had moved to a north-city house owned by Ferguson's grandmother. Dawan was working odd jobs at his stepfather's firm. Theda was still in school. But their relationship was deteriorating.
"We were fighting all the time," Thomas recalls, describing how they both became physically violent. "Finally, you know, it was his house, and he said, 'You're mad about this, you're mad about that, you can get out.'"
On October 26, 1997, Theda Thomas and the boys moved back into her parents' home. Dawan filed for divorce less than a year later, demanding full custody of Christian and Connor, plus child support. Theda countered with her own lawsuit, asking the court to annul the marriage and award her custody.
At their divorce trial in November 1998, Theda submitted public records to back up her claim that owing to an oversight, the couple had failed to obtain a marriage license until six months after their wedding. St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Thomas Frawley annulled the marriage based on that technical error. He awarded custody to Theda and visitation rights to Dawan.
The couple was back in court five weeks later, commencing a volley of accusations that wouldn't let up for months. Dawan claimed Theda wasn't bringing the children on the agreed-upon days, that she wasn't sharing Christian's medications, and that she disparaged him in front of hospital staff and made false allegations of child abuse to the Missouri Department of Social Services.