(originally published in Foundation Focus August 2011)
With four children at home, Annette and Chip eagerly anticipated the arrival of twins following a scheduled induction of labor at The Birthplace at Williamsport Regional Medical Center on November 23, 2010. Although Annette was short of breath, her vaginal delivery, coached by her husband, and her midwife, was fairly routine. Just after they welcomed Matthew and Molly into the world, events took a dramatic turn.
Annette began hemorrhaging, and Dr. Charles Lamade rushed her to the operating room for an intervention to stop the bleeding.
When Annette’s breathing difficulties worsened, Dr. Marius Figueredo, who assisted with the emergency surgery, stabilized and intubated her. Annette was sedated and transferred to the ICU, where Dr. Robert Trautwein diagnosed her with peripartum cardiomyopathy(PPCM), an extremely rare and potentially life-threatening form of heart failure that occurs during or following pregnancy.
“I tell people everything went wrong in the best possible way,” says Annette. “I was with the right caregivers at the right time. They listened to me, observed my symptoms and were able to diagnose and treat me.”
As Annette received lifesaving care, the twins’ needs were carefully met. Lactation Consultant Lisa McCloskey, RN, BSN, IBCLC, initiated cooperative efforts between The Birthplace team and the ICU team, laying the foundation to fulfill Annette’s desire to breastfeed the twins.
“In the midst of a crisis, we had health professionals willing to take our lifestyle and the way we wanted to parent into account. We trusted them, and they made it work,” says Chip.
While Annette remained sedated, staff brought the babies to her so they could have skin-to-skin contact and physically connect with their mother. ICU staff members learned to pump Annette’s breasts to stimulate milk production. At the request of the family, the team at The Birthplace initially fed the babies with cup and syringe, preparing them for an easy transition to breastfeeding, and only switched to bottles of formula when the babies’ bilirubin levels became too high.
Annette was brought out of sedation and extubated on November 25, Thanksgiving Day. As she recovered, she was transferred to 4 East, the cardiac monitoring unit, and nursed back to health through two recurrences of congestive heart failure. Throughout the family’s sometimes frightening and often challenging ordeal, Annette and Chip were thankful not only for the support of the medical staff but also for the care and compassion they received from Susquehanna Health chaplains Pastor Steve Haupert and Father Fidelis Ekemgba.
A steady stream of visits from nurses and midwives also kept Annette’s spirits high. And staff continued bringing the babies for visits and assisting with pumping.
“This was definitely out of their comfort zone. What they did and how they worked as a team was so extraordinary. And they did it with such grace. We would say thank you, and they were so matter-of-fact about it,” says Annette.
“This was so unlike any of our previous birth experiences,” she continued. “Normally we’re with our babies from the moment they’re born. But when we couldn’t be, so many staff members stepped in, even staying after a shift to sit with me so I could be with the babies…it was comforting to have such trust in the hospital and to feel like the twins were being nurtured by lots of mamas.”
After eight days in the hospital, Annette returned home to her family. Within two weeks Molly and Matthew were breastfeeding exclusively, and with the help of family, friends and parishioners from their church, Annette was back to homeschooling her older children.
Six months after her hospitalization, Annette’s heart has nearly regained its normal function. Her condition is closely monitored by her primary care physician, Dr. Rosemary Wiegand, of Susquehanna Health Medical Group, in conjunction with Dr. Trautwein and his team at the Heart & Vascular Institute.
Annette is also participating in a PPCM research program at Hershey Medical Center. Her continuing recovery is the result of the rapid diagnosis and intervention of the doctors and nurses at Williamsport Regional Medical Center.
The twins are thriving, crawling and developing distinct little personalities. Annette credits their good health to the devotion and care they received from staff who went out of their way to give them the best possible start.
“Everything broke the right way for us,” Chip says. “The staff did exactly the right things in the right order, and showed such obvious concern for Annette and our family. Their professionalism and teamwork led to the best possible outcome. We are so grateful to God for their skills and their care.”