A Birthing Story
In 2013, after a year of wedded bliss, my husband and I were expecting our first baby. In the early months of pregnancy, I enjoyed everything about growing life in my body. It left me feeling joyful and fulfilled. At the time of my pregnancy, I was working as a Sales Manager for a boutique hotel in Orange County. Myself and several of my officemates came down with respiratory infections. As most of their sicknesses cleared up, mine persisted. Being prone to allergies, I was used to the presence of a pesky cough and therefore didn’t think much of it.
With the start of my third trimester came some interesting news. My husband’s company wa A Births transferring us from Southern California to the Bay area for his next job. Having moved nearly a dozen times before and naive to the limitations of a pregnancy, off we went. 34 weeks pregnant with a new OBGYN, new home, new zip code. I’ll never forget the chills and high fevers I was welcomed with the day we moved in.
A week straight of 103 temperature and not a single inclination of what was to blame. We became all too familiar with the emergency room at the nearby hospital. It was realized during my ER visit that I was suffering from pneumonia and likely had been the length of my pregnancy. Additionally, I had developed pleurisy in my rib cage which left me bellied over from the pain. If you don’t know what pleurisy is, imagine a knife to the rib cage with each and every breath. Not only was I struggling with the pneumonia and pleurisy but my body rapidly began to swell. In the final six weeks of pregnancy, my body retained thirty pounds of fluid. Clinging so tightly to the dream of being a “glowing pregnant woman” that I so desired to be, there was no way of pulling that off now with my Mickey Mouse sized hands and puffy face.
I was 41 weeks pregnant at my last OB appointment and the baby was not yet in birthing position. An induction was scheduled later that week, and off we went, hospital bag packed, nervous joy in our hearts. I labored for 48 hours and only dilated to 5 cm. This left my doctor no choice but to perform an emergency c-section alleviating stress that baby and I were experiencing.
For the next part of the story, I will quote the words of my husband by reading a text message he sent to our family and loved ones. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but things got a little crazy after the birth, I’ll try to summarize the best I can, and bring you up to speed. On July 4th, after two long days of induced labor, Nell’s OB felt that although she had dilated to 5 cm, other complications were such that a c section would be the safest option. The c section went well, no issues. Our beautiful baby girl (yes girl, daddy was wrong all along) was born at 8:59 pm on July 4, 2013. After 20 minutes of stabilizing Nell and the baby separately, I was now able to take our little Gracie Jane to meet her mama for the first time. For an emotional 30 seconds, Danielle and I experienced the most exciting and happy moment of our lives. Nell however, was not able to catch a good deep breath, and her attempt to do this became more and more difficult. I could see something was terribly wrong with her by the fear that started to develop in her eyes. What seemed like a standard “catch your breath after coming out of anesthesia” had increased to something much worse. Danielle looked at me and said, “act quickly, I do not have a lot of time.”
When my OBGYN returned back to my bedside, she and her colleagues were convinced that I had suffered an amniotic fluid embolism. I was transferred to the ICU and my care was now in the hands of the on-call Pulmonologist. I was immediately sedated and intabated, as any amount of stimuli would send my vitals plummeting.
After three days of receiving supportive care, a call was made to Dr. Al Dasari, a renowned Pulmonoligist out of the UCSF who agreed to pick up my case. He and his team arrived, placed me on a more sophisticated ventilator, and transferred me via ambulance to UCSF. They ruled out an amniotic fluid embolism and diagnosed me with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). While the prognosis was grim, my family felt reassured that I was in the right hands. Three days into my stay at UCSF, the Doctor told my family that I wasn’t getting better but I wasn’t getting worse. With my health at a plateau, there was yet another obstacle in our path. High levels of protein in my urine indicated that I had preeclampsia, something we suspected since the rapid swelling several weeks prior. As the doctors were diureseing fluid from my lungs, the preeclampsia was working against their efforts. So here we are in the darkest of hours in walked Dr. Matthay. He had just received the green light on the first phase of a research study he was working on which would test the safety and efficacy of mesenchymal stem cells in human patients. Despite the stem cell therapy only being used on rats and sheep thus far, there was cautious optimism that there could be life-saving benefits. Feeling much like a last ditch effort to save my life, my family obliged and the treatment was administered. While only Dr. Matthay and his team can speak to the dramatic improvement of my lung function, the respiratory therapist in my hospital room didn’t mind sharing that in his twenty year tenure he had never seen a such a miraculous and rapid improvement. Within 24 hours of receiving the injection of stem cells, I was walking and 72 hours past that, I was home. Oh, and that job we were sent up to the Bay Area for never came to fruition, with the cancellation of the construction contract, back to Southern California we went. It was a God orchestrated appointment to be in Northern California and in the care of Dr. Matthay.
As of today, my husband Ian and I are the proud parents to our now 3 year old Gracie Jane. Having been born on 4th of July, she feels it her obligation to be our firecracker and she excels at it everyday. As of March this year, we made the decision to grow our family through foster care. We are now the proud parents of a beautiful 6 month baby boy who has been in our care since he was two weeks old. Prayerfully, at the end of the year we will be able to adopt him.
I’ve always been the glass half full type of person, so I will leave you with the epiphanies of someone who woke up from a two week sedation; live purposefully, love unconditionally, and shine brightly in the presence of the Lord, humbled by his mercies. In the bible there’s a verse that means a lot to me found in Luke and it says this, “For the mighty one has done great things for me, holy is his name.”
~ Danielle Kangas