published Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Upton: Childbirth emergency reassesses ‘good days’

At 21, Leah (not her real name) was married, pregnant and happy. So far, things had gone textbook perfect.

The plan was to induce labor the following Monday, since she was overdue, but Leah began labor on Saturday night, Dec. 14, 1996. Everything seemed normal except that it went rather long. Early Monday morning she delivered a healthy 8-pound girl.

Leah didn’t hear her baby cry nor hold her before the attendants whisked the baby away. Just as she informed the doctor of her back pain, she heard him say something like, “Uh oh!”

The doctor saw before him what he thought was part of her placenta. Actually, her uterus somehow had become detached during labor, and the pain was now unmanageable.

While the doctor held things together the best he could manually, Leah was rushed screaming into emergency surgery. The last thing she heard were the emotional and forceful words, “I don’t care where (the anesthesiologist) is! KNOCK HER OUT!”

Leah lay lifeless on the hospital bed. She had no blood pressure, no discernible pulse, for more than 30 minutes. Hemorrhaging internally, she was yet unaware that the doctor had performed four hours of surgery in an effort to save her life.

She weighed 160 pounds when she had given birth but now tipped the scales at over 200 pounds due to life-preserving fluid injected into her. Her body had suddenly lost its ability to create platelets to clot the blood. She’d gone into multi-organ shutdown. Her liver, kidney, lungs and heart stopped working on their own. Though she suffered a mild stroke, her brain never shut down.

Someone called Emory Medical Center from her small Georgia hospital but was told, “Moving her will kill her.” The doctors induced a coma to help her heal and told the family, “She may wake up; she may not. She may be a vegetable; she may be OK.” They gave her a 5 percent chance of surviving.

Leah awoke 10 days later on Dec. 26, her mother’s birthday. “I thought I had just delivered the baby,” she recalled. “I couldn’t remember the rest.”

She alternated in and out of comas for several days before finally waking up. All organs but her kidneys had regained function, so a portable dialysis unit was brought in for her.

When Leah finally went home, her family pulled together to care for her and the baby. Her younger sister sometimes took the child to high school with her when her parents went to work or were giving her 24-hour care. It was months before the doctor could sit down and talk with her about it, so emotionally shaken was he over the unusual situation. He told her matter-of-factly, “We did nothing special. You are here because you are supposed to be here.”

Before the year was out, she was to receive a kidney from her mother, face a rapidly crumbling marriage and, finally, celebrate her daughter’s first year of life. It would be another month, January 1998, when the catheter was removed from her chest, that she could hold her child for the first time.

Today, Leah enjoys parenting her now-13-year old daughter with her devoted second husband. Due to fibromyalgia and health that remains relatively fragile, she does not work full-time but has completed her college degree. She volunteers tirelessly for a local elementary school, heads a PTA, Girl Scouts troop and enjoys a host of other activities.

“Every day above ground is a good day,” she says.

about Tabi Upton...

Tabi Upton, MA-LPC is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center.

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