published Sunday, December 25th, 2011

Christmas Miracles: 'I'm blessed to be living'

Sissy and Andy Figlestahler sit with their sons, from left, Patrick, 11 months; Jack, 4; John Peter, 3; and Andrew, 6.
Sissy and Andy Figlestahler sit with their sons, from left, Patrick, 11 months; Jack, 4; John Peter, 3; and Andrew, 6.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The 35-year-old wife and mother of four little boys was slipping into unconsciousness as blood poured out of her body, dripping onto the floor of the operating room.

"Am I going to be all right? Sissy Figlestahler begged her doctor, who had just walked into the room.

"You are going to be fine. I'm not going to let anything happen to you," Dr. Kent Childs promised.

It was a promise the veteran obstetrician wasn't sure he would be able to keep.

Nearly a year later, Figlestahler doesn't remember that exchange in the operating room at Parkridge East Hospital. She does remember the two surgical teams who worked more than two hours to save her life, the dozens of staff who provided her with comfort and care after the surgery and the daily moments with her family.

"I'm blessed to be living," Figlestahler said. She still cries every time she tells the story.

"Even in the chaos of my life with four small boys, right now I know I'm living in the best time of my life."


Her fourth pregnancy had been a normal one, just like her other three, until the 34th week. Figlestahler woke at 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 1 and discovered she was bleeding.

She called Childs at home. He was on vacation but he answered the phone and promised to meet her at the hospital.

There, Childs diagnosed a placenta abruption, with the placenta separating from the uterus wall. He ordered Figlestahler to total bed rest at the hospital.

Figlestahler took it all in stride, more worried about how her husband would manage their sons' busy schedules and how she could possibly stay in bed for weeks.

But the next morning, she started hemorrhaging and was rushed in for an emergency C-section.

Childs -- still on vacation -- came in to deliver the boy, Patrick. Even at six weeks early, Patrick weighed 6 pounds, 2 ounces and was healthy. Nurses whisked him off to the NICU and Figlestahler was moved into the recovery room.

Childs teased her that this would have to be her last child, stripped off his gloves and headed out to attend church with his daughter.

"I felt fine," Figlestahler said. "Then suddenly I started feeling hot."

She begged nurses to take off her blankets, but they told her that her body temperature was plummeting.

She began bleeding profusely, passing blood clots the size of tennis balls, nurses later noted on her chart.

They were headed back to the O.R., nurses said, as they called Childs and other doctors.

"I didn't know what was going on, but I knew something was wrong," Figlestahler said. "I was praying as hard as I could, 'Please, God, don't leave me.'"

Figlestahler heard the clang of instruments, as nurses dumped the entire drawer on the table.

Two surgical teams were scrubbing in, and Childs was on his way back to the hospital. Figlestahler begged them not to start surgery until her doctor got there.

"I was hysterical," she said. "I wanted him to be there."

When he walked through the doors, Childs said blood was pouring out of Figlestahler's body, even where the IV lines had been inserted.

Her blood was no longer clotting, a reaction known as disseminated intravascular coagulation.

"She was dying," Childs said bluntly.

In the next two hours, the surgical team poured 19 units of blood into Figlestahler, as well as platelets and clotting factor.

For 30 minutes, she had no blood pressure and they couldn't find a heartbeat.

Figlestahler remembers feeling like she had left her body.

"I was looking down at the table," she said. "I didn't feel human. It was like my whole life had been erased. Time stood still -- very silent and quiet."

At one point, Childs and another doctor had both their hands inside her body, trying to pinch shut arteries that continued to pour blood.

Childs performed a hysterectomy, doing everything he could to stop the bleeding while the anesthesiologist gave her drugs to try to keep her blood pressure and heart rate viable.

When she had somewhat stabilized, Childs sprayed the surgical site with Floseal and stitched it shut.

"We put our hands on her and I said, 'Everybody say a prayer,'" he said. "I didn't know what would happen."

Childs was soaked in sweat when he walked out to tell Figlestahler's husband she was still alive.

A year later, he jokes that those two hours took 10 years off his life.

"She's a lucky soul," he said. "But it wasn't just me. It was the whole team."


Figlestahler had an amniotic fluid embolism, doctors now believe.

It is a rare obstetric emergency, which happens when amniotic fluid or fetal matter enters the mother's bloodstream. It has a high fatality rate.

Figlestahler was in the hospital for two weeks before she was able to go home.

She was nicknamed the "miracle patient" by the staff. They snuck her baby up from the NICU so she could see him, brought her pictures of her son and rubbed her feet when she was cold.

"How do you repay something like that?" she said, wiping away tears. "Why did I receive this miracle? You could say it was a fluke, but it was too unexplained to not be divinity."

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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