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Amniotic Fluid Embolism: A Survivor’s Story

On September 18th, my "due" date, I went into labour with our second daughter and headed to the hospital. Labour progressed throughout the night, and the next day, around 10 or 11, I received an epidural and decided to take a nap. Around a quarter of 5, I suddenly woke up and yelled, "My heart is racing!" My wonderful husband, Eli, went to get the nurse because he thought the monitor had slipped. By the time he returned with the nurse. I was slumped over and had a seizure. Next, my nurse, Kristi, decided the staff assist button needed to be pushed. This is called the Labor & Delivery and NICU teams. As CPR was being performed, the decision was made to perform an emergency cesarean, and a "Code Blue" was called. At this point, my husband and doula were rushed out of the room as several nurses and doctors rushed in. My husband said it was so surreal. About 40 doctors and nurses from different specialities were probably lined up outside my room, waiting to be called in if needed. 

After about 30 minutes, they stabilized me and rushed me to an operating room to figure out what was going on. I coded several more times in the OR and needed surgery because my lung collapsed. I had a clot in it, and my lung was where my heart was supposed to be. I also went into disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), which medical professionals call death is coming—this is where your body is bleeding from every orifice and throws blood clots at the same time. I had blood clots in my right hand, in my brain, which caused a stroke, and in the veins leading to my kidneys and legs, which caused my kidneys to shut down, needing dialysis and cutting off blood supply to my legs. The doctors even talked about a double amputation and kidney transplant, but thankfully, both were not needed. However, I do have the perfect donor since I'm an identical twin. Over the next week, I had five more surgeries, including a hysterectomy, and was put on Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). ECMO saved my life because my heart and lungs were not working properly. 

I was in a coma for a total of 9 days. It is a very surreal experience to wake up and learn you were "asleep" for over a week. I woke up still on a ventilator, which, I believe, is one of the worst things someone can experience. Not being able to communicate with your husband or nurses is really frustrating. 

I suffered an amniotic fluid embolism, which only occurs in approximately 1 in 40,000 women, and I was given only a 1% chance of survival. An AFE is when amniotic fluid gets into the mother's bloodstream (which does happen during pregnancy) and causes an anaphylactoid-like reaction. 

Also, deciding to try for a VBAC saved my life. We were told the hospital I delivered at is the only hospital that can do ECMO for adults. If I had decided to have a c-section, I would have chosen the hospital where I had my first daughter, which would not have been prepared for my trauma. We were also told I would not have survived the life flight across town. 

As you can imagine, life since my perinatal trauma has been a whirlwind. My AFE unfortunately left me disabled, and I have been in rehab (PT, OT, and Speech) for several years. I was diagnosed with chronic pain, an enlarged heart, POTS, and likely permanent atrophy and weakness in my right leg. Even in all that, God blessed our family immeasurably with our two girls! We are very grateful for the countless medical staff who wouldn't give up on me and my rehab team helping me so much!

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