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Patient Story: Heather and Stephen, Two Emergencies

One thing kept running through my brain, there's a very good chance I could lose my husband and my daughter in the same day.

Heather and Stephen were a happy young couple expecting the birth of their third daughter. The pregnancy had its normal ups and downs, but nothing unusual until one day Heather began to experience increasing pain.

"I had started feeling little things, making me think I was possibly going into labor. Then, the pains got worse and I knew it wasn't regular," said Heather.

Heather and her two other daughters had been staying at her mother's house, just down the street from her own home, because Stephen hadn't been feeling well and was having back and chest pain.

Heather said, "My mother and I jumped in the car and we picked Stephen up on the way by and went right into Brigham and Women's."

A Life-Threatening Situation for Mother and Baby

"When we got to the hospital, we went in to OB admitting and they immediately put a heart monitor on me," said Heather. Through the heart monitor, Heather and Stephen could hear that their baby's heartbeat was almost gone and an anxious situation turned into an emergency.

"They immediately removed Stephen from the room to put the scrubs on him because they knew they were going to have to take the baby c-section," Heather said. "I think when they realized how bad it was, they didn't even let Stephen in the operating room at all."

The anesthesiologist quickly sedated Heather, who they believe had a placental abruption either on the way to the hospital or when she was already there. Then the doctors quickly delivered the baby.

Stephen said, "I remember sitting in the waiting room outside the ER and I was by myself. I said how am I going to deal with this? Because I knew my wife was in tough shape, and I knew the baby was in tough shape."

And then their wait began, wondering if the baby was going to be okay.

"I remember lying there and sobbing and sobbing the first day. It was just when we thought the baby might not make it," recalled Heather, "and then we got to the point where they were telling us okay, she's going to make it, but we don't know what her situation is."

Stephen Needs Emergency Open-Heart Surgery

After a long and worrisome day, Stephen was walking his mother out after visiting the family in the hospital. And then the unexpected happened.

Heather said, "14 hours after Isabelle was born, and we weren't sure how she would be, Stephen collapsed outside the back door to the emergency room at Brigham and Women's."

Stephen's aorta had burst, blood surrounded his heart and he was in cardiac arrest.

"He had coded twice and the emergency room doctor said it was like a Hollywood movie. She said "this man is 39-years-old, he just had a baby this morning and I'm not letting him die in this emergency room," said Heather.

They opened Stephen's chest, stopped the bleeding and he then went into a 12-hour surgery.

Heather said, "We didn't know a thing until the surgeon came in the next morning and spent a lot of time with us after he had been up all night operating on Stephen."

Coping with Crisis, Receiving Compassionate Care

After a harrowing day and a half, Heather received unbelievable news.

She said, "I got a phone call from somebody in Stephen's ICU room saying that they thought everything looked great and that they were going to take him back into the operating room to close him up."

Shortly after that, Heather received yet another call – this time from the NICU. "Isabelle's nurse called telling me that her MRI was clean," Heather said. "They never thought in a million years that this would happen, they thought she was going to have terrible brain damage."

In the span of 10 minutes, Heather learned that both her husband and her daughter were on the road to recovery.

She said, "To have two incredibly tragic things happen within 24 hours and be in a place where there are such unbelievable doctors that could save both of them. It would have been unbelievable if even one of them had been saved. And we were in a place where the expertise of the doctors was so high that both of them were saved."

Another important factor, on that day and in the following days, was the care Heather received from the nurses and staff – helping her to cope with all that she faced.

"All of the people were very welcoming of our families," said Heather, "they really understood how important it was for me to have my mother with me, she was welcomed like she was a patient herself."

Recovery and Reflections

Today, the family is doing well. Isabelle's doctor says she is developing and growing like any other baby her age and Stephen is recovering.

Heather said, "I think that, emotionally, it's going to take a long time to get over the trauma of what happened. The baby is defying the expectations of her pediatrician and neurologist and Stephen really does feel that he has had a second chance at life."

"Every day is a good day," said Stephen. "Sometimes people ask me how I'm doing and I always say its better than the alternative...I'm very lucky."

Heather ended, "I talk all the time about Brigham and Women's and how they saved the baby and they saved him...they essentially saved our family."

Patient Story Video: Heather and Stephen

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