Step inside a certain East Flatbush hall this July 3 and you may have found yourself in the midst of an extravagant first-birthday party, replete with photo booths, arts-and-crafts stations and dozens of blue and white balloons.
At a stand near a blow-up palm tree, you would have seen Dennis Semple working the bar, giving out juice for kids, beer and brown liquor for some adults and hugs for everybody.
On the front of his T-shirt was a picture of his smiling granddaughter, with the words, “Khloe’s first birthday.” On the back, a commemorative montage of his daughter Sha-Asia Semple, who died giving birth to Khloe July 3 last year at Bed-Stuy’s Woodhull Hospital, at age 26. “Forever Daddy’s little girl.”
On Saturday, the family was reunited in a dual celebration of the first birthday of Khloe, while remembering one year since they lost their beloved Sha-Asia.
“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Sha-Asia’s step mom Chaniqua Semple said, as she ran from organizing Moana-themed decorations, to coordinating guest arrivals, to preparing dozens of trays of hot food.
“I never in a million years thought I’d be here planning something and putting something together without Sha-Asia’s approval. But for all of us to come together I’m happy, it’s all love.”
‘Not a regular one-year-old’
Semple said he woke up that day thinking about his daughter — who many knew as ‘Stink’ — looking down on him.
“I thought about that all morning, from the moment I opened my eyes,” he said.
“I know my daughter would be like, ‘Daddy, you’re doing it just like you did it for me.’ Because anybody who knows me would tell you, I always gave my daughter birthday parties, from the time she was born.”
Saturday’s party brought together at least 100 loved ones, and lots of kids, to show love for Khloe and celebrate Sha-Asia’s legacy.
The birthday girl arrived with her dad, Juwan Lopez, in a flowing coral-colored dress made by designer George “Riichez.”
“She’s very smart, she’s not a regular one-year-old,” Lopez’s mom Desiree Williams said. Khloe lives with her dad and Williams in Canarsie.
“She’s very happy, has a very big smile and loves to cuddle too. First thing in the morning she wakes up looks at me, and all she does is smile.” Williams said Khloe loved to write with crayons and a notepad. “I think she’s going to be a journalist.”
While Williams lights up talking about baby Khloe, she said she was trying to keep busy to keep her mind from wandering. It was an emotional day, full of tears. “This time last year, she was still alive.”
Justice for Sha-Asia
Semple died in childbirth at Bed-Stuy’s Woodhull Medical Center July 3, 2020, after going in for a routine test a few days after her due date. She was induced and given an epidural, at which point she went into cardiac arrest.
Healthy baby Khloe was delivered via C-section, but Semple passed away. Her death shot the shocking Black maternal death rate back into the media: Black women in the United States are more than three times more likely to die due to pregnancy or childbirth than white women, and about 60% of those deaths are preventable, according to CDC data.
“The topic is getting out there, and a lot of people have their own story they went through,” Sha-Asia’s godfather B.T. Williams — who organized a mural for Sha-Asia in Bed-Stuy — said.
“Everyone has been affected somehow. Through that, we are connected and gain strength. Through that, we all become family, community.”
On March 2, the anesthesiologist who administered Semple’s epidural, Dr. Dmitry Anatolevich Shelchkov, had his license suspended while the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct investigated his role in her death.
The family’s attorney, Rose Day of Day & Associates P.C., said she understood there would be a hearing on the permanent termination of his license.
“It’s pain that this family should never have had to endure. A perfectly healthy 26-year-old goes to a hospital to have a child, and she never exits that hospital,” Day said.
In November last year, Lopez filed a lawsuit against Woodhull Medical Center, NYC Health + Hospitals and the anesthesiologist, alleging negligent malpractice.
Speaking on Saturday, Day said the City of New York had “certainly stepped up to right a wrong” and it seemed the City wanted to do the right thing by Lopez and Khloe.
“I was always hoping there would be a day that the family would have some peace, some resolution, some account of what happened to them, and I think that day is near.”
As she spoke, Khloe’s grandmas, Semple and Williams, squeezed by carrying an extraordinary, five-story, Moana-themed cake into the hall.
Williams cried as she hugged the cake maker — the whole creation was donated, absolutely free.
“We’re here to celebrate the legacy Sha-Asia left, so her death wasn’t in vain,” Day said. “She brought people together with her spirit, and I see that here today.”
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