Crystal and Patrick Krason stepped in and helped Barbara Bell when the new mother had nowhere else to turn.
The Caretakers: Crystal and Patrick Krason
Credit: Courtesy of Crystal and Patrick Krason

When Barbara Bell stopped by the Krason home in suburban Washington, D.C., in late 2017, she was expecting to pick up a shoe rack she saw on Nextdoor and be on her way. But while making small talk, Patrick Krason, who had posted the ad, and Bell realized they had children around the same age. Patrick offered up pizza and a playdate with his two sons and daughter. “I was a little apprehensive,” says Crystal Krason, Patrick’s wife. “But next thing you know, Barbara came over with her sons, and the kids got along great.”

Bell had been on the move for months: After leaving a violent relationship in the Northeast, she had moved west, only to be displaced by wildfires. Now she’d come to Virginia to live with her father. And she was pregnant, due in just a few months.

In January 2018, Bell gave birth to her third son via C-section. The recovery was difficult. A few days after coming home from the hospital, she was in significant pain. She recalls her doctor checking her out and sending her home, but the next day she felt worse. On a Friday night, she called Crystal and told her how horrible she was feeling, saying she planned to go to the hospital on Monday.

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Crystal insisted she go to the hospital immediately. Patrick, 45, drove her there while his wife collected Bell’s three boys, newborn Elliott and his brothers, then ages 9 and 4. It was late, and the boys were already in their pajamas. “Your mom will be back tonight,” she told them. But Bell’s condition was worse than anybody realized—she spent five days in the hospital recovering from complications, she says. Meanwhile, the Krasons were caring for 9-day-old Elliot. The families video chatted, and Patrick made trips to pick up breast milk Bell pumped.

Bell was released with a walker, making it impossible to live in her dad’s home, which had stairs. Instead she moved into the Krasons’ small apartment in an elevator building. Bell’s mom had come from out of town to take the older boys, while Bell and Elliott took over the Krasons’ daughter’s room. Bell stayed for roughly six weeks, until her doctor gave her the all clear to travel to her mom’s. Friends raised an eyebrow, says Crystal, 40, “but when somebody needs your help, you just help them.”

Bell moved later that spring, but she and Crystal still talk several times a week. Bell, now 38, says the former neighbors are connected for life. “They stepped up when I had no one and nothing. I literally feel that I wouldn’t be here today if they weren’t in my life.”