“We have stopped the bleeding”
With eyes so swollen from tears that I could barely see and a heart that had been splintering into a thousand pieces, the Dr. delivered words we had hardly dared to hope to hear.
Today’s post is a very personal one.
You see, I almost lost my daughter last week due to complications from childbirth.
I wish there was some way I could articulate to you the complexity of emotions around the utter joy of welcoming a perfect, precious new life into your family and the agony of facing the possibility that your sweet, ornery, kindhearted, beloved daughter may not see that new life grow up.
Life and death hanging on delicate, fragile threads.
On Monday, June 13th, my daughter messaged me that she was not feeling well (headache, blurry vision, swelling) and was going to make a dr. appt that evening. The baby was due on July 3rd, so we were still several weeks out from him making an appearance. She messaged me again that they were sending her over to the Women’s and Babies Hospital for more tests and possible admittance. Her last message to me was that she was scared. I reassured that everything would be ok and that I would drive in to the hospital and meet her and her husband there.
Upon further testing and a diagnosis of eclampsia; the decision was made to admit her and start the process of bringing the baby into the world. She was given magnesium to prevent seizures and was settled into a room. As Tuesday morning, June 14th dawned, I went home to catch a few hours of sleep, do some work, and then head back in. At about 9:30 am, my son-in-law texted me that Brienne was 4 centimeters and they expected things to move along pretty quickly (her first pregnancy was easy and quick as well). I arrived back at the hospital around 10:30 and we waited for baby Jameson to make his appearance. Not long after I got there, Brienne requested an epidural and was made more comfortable.
The nurses were keeping a pretty close eye on the baby’s heartbeat and when she got to 8 centimeters they decided to put a fetal scalp monitor on the baby to get more accurate measurements on his heart. Everything stalled for a few hours and then around 5 pm a few nurses came into the room, and then a few more…and then all of a sudden there were 15 nurses in the room disconnecting wires and moving furniture around. At first, we thought that the baby had decided to make an abrupt entrance, and then we heard over the intercom “Code C, Room 66”.
I stopped a nurse and asked what was going on and she replied that the baby was in distress and they needed to do an emergency c-section under general anesthesia immediately.
The NICU team was standing by and we were ushered into another waiting room. Within 5 minutes, a Dr. came in and told us that baby Jameson came out ‘hootin’ and hollerin’, was perfectly healthy, but had been all tangled up in the umbilical cord. We were then told that my daughter was in recovery and we would see both her and the baby soon.
After an hour and a half of waiting, no one had come back to the waiting room and I went to the front desk to find out what was going on. In the meantime, the Dr had come in to take my SIL back to meet his son and we were told that Brienne had started hemorrhaging and needed to go back into surgery in order to find and control the bleeding. Not long after that, the intercom went off again…this time with the words “MTP OR ” which meant Massive Transfusion Protocol Operating Room 5 (words we were to become all too familiar with over the next several hours). Doors opened up with nurses stationed along the side and runners came down the hallway with lunchmate coolers of blood.
This was not good. We were, of course, starting to panic at this point and just grasping the severity of the situation. The Dr. came in to reassure us that she was ok, she was back in recovery and it would be awhile before we could see her.
About 20 minutes later the Dr. came back in and said that the bleeding had started again and that this time a hysterectomy would be performed in an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging. Again, another MTP was called and it was at this time that we all starting experiencing real fear of what the worst possible outcome could be.
At around 11 pm two Drs. came in and told us that they had stopped the bleeding, but she had something called DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation), a very rare condition (less than 20,000 cases/year) that developed as a result of the eclampsia. Basically, the blood clots so much that the clots begin breaking down and hemorrhaging starts. It’s very difficult to treat and loss of life is a very real possibility. They were going to transport her to the main hospital’s ICU in order to better treat her and get her stabilized. They also told us that they had had to put her on a ventilator and that she was heavily sedated.
With heavy hearts, my sons (the stoic Marine and quiet Navy sailor) stood vigil as their sister was loaded into an ambulance unconscious and on a ventilator. She was transported to the ICU and my husband and SIL followed the ambulance over to the hospital while my youngest son and his wife stayed with me and our new member of the family (who btw is absolutely perfect).
I went over to the ICU around 1 am and stayed for an hour to get an update and hold my daughter’s hand for a bit. The ICU doctor informed us that the situation was very critical and that the priority was preventing her organs from shutting down. He reassured us that she was stable at that point and needed to kept under sedation. Even heavily sedated, Brienne was aware and was able to squeeze our hands. I went back over to Women’s and Babies to check on the baby, feed him, and try to catch an hour of sleep. At 5:15 am I was feeding Jameson and feeling like I really needed to get back over to the ICU…I didn’t know why just an anxiety I couldn’t shake. Around 5:30 my husband called me sobbing saying I needed to get over to the hospital right away. “She is still alive, but you need to get here right away, she’s bleeding out.”
I remember saying “No, no, no, no, no Brienne”, and my heart stopping.
My son and I flew out the door and raced back to the hospital. When I got there I ran down the hall, and found my husband and SIL in a small consultation room with a chaplain…all of them with heads bowed praying. Brienne had started hemorrhaging again, and in fact, had tried to let them know by pointing to her lower abdomen. My SIL had been trying to keep her calm and then my husband looked down and saw all the blood. We found out later 3 liters of blood had pooled in her abdomen and pushed all the packing out.
A team came rushing in and escorted Ben and Cody out of the room, which was when I arrived and saw the wall of people surrounding her bed. We found out later that that was when she had to be resuscitated. Dr. Olt, the ob/gyn oncologist surgeon came in to talk with us at that point. Confident, self-assured, calm, he sat down and told us that he would fix this. He would find where she was bleeding and he would fix it. They thought that she might have a laceration on her cervix and that although she was wildly unstable (yet another MTP…#3… was called right after he talked to us), they had no choice but to open her up and try to find the bleeding, she was going to bleed to death. And yes, this was to be her fourth surgery in the space of 12 hours. She would be going into the hospital’s hybrid OR so that the 3 surgical teams would have room to work. The plan was for the ob/gyn team to find the bleeding, she would then be moved over to the radiologic team who would then take over and insert a coil or coils (14 total would be inserted) depending on where the bleeding was coming from, and then, of course, the anesthesiology team.
At 7:36 am on the 15th, they wheeled her into surgery and thus began the longest 5 and a half hours of my entire life. At 8:06 we heard over the intercom “MTP to hybrid OR” (if you’re counting, this was the fourth MTP) and we all lost it. I have no words to describe the agony of knowing that your child’s life is in such a tenuous position and that there isn’t anything you can do about it but pray. Family was gathering around us and our eyes were glued to the update board in the waiting room.
I kept imagining 2 cans and a string between her and I, and I just kept talking to her the whole time. “Brienne, it’s mom, you’re strong, you’re a fighter, help the surgeons help you honey”…just constantly talking to her. Alternately between telling her how much I loved her and sternly telling her that this was not acceptable at all.
At about 2 hours into the surgery, the charge nurse came out to give us an update and then asked how often we wanted her to come out and keep us updated. At that point, she said that they still weren’t able to control the bleeding and that blood was going out as fast as it was going in, but the Drs’ weren’t giving up.
One of the surgeons came out about an hour later to talk to us and explain just how tenuous the situation was… “keep praying’ she said. They still hadn’t been able to locate the bleeding, but were continuing to work on her.
More time passed by and my best friend came up with the suggestion of organizing a blood drive in her name. She got everything organized and she shared it on social media. They had a record turnout that day which was fantasic because Brienne had decimated the blood bank supply at that point. People drove from as far as four states away to donate, and the post was shared hundreds of times.
About 4 hours in, the surgeon came back out and said that they had located the bleeding and the radiology team was taking over to insert the coils and that then they would keep her open in the OR to make sure that the bleeding had stopped.
At 12:30 pm, the ob/gyn surgical team came out and took us into a consult room to talk to us. We were scared out of our wits, but they assured us that it was for privacy purposes. At that time they told us she had made it. They located the source of the bleeding, got the coisl inserted successfully, and had finally, finally, stopped the bleeding.
I’ve known my husband for 35 years and I have never seen him break down like he did at that moment. He sobbed in my arms and I felt like I could finally breathe again.
The surgeon said, “She’s 25 years old and a new mom, I wasn’t going to let her go”.
They moved her back up to the ICU and warned us that because of all of the blood products (over 100 lbs worth) she had severe swelling and wouldn’t look like herself. Yea, we didn’t care…she was alive.
It was hard to believe that it was only one o’clock in the afternoon. It felt like we had lived a lifetime through this and we were all shaky with relief and feeling like a huge burden had been lifted off of our hearts. My SIL dubbed her the ‘original badass’ and vowed to never doubt her strength again.
She had even garnered her own hashtags of #Briestrong and #Briennebadass (described my girl perfectly).
While at this point we have no idea how much blood she went through total, we do know that during the last surgery she went through 87 units of blood and over 100 pounds of blood products (platelets, hemoglobin, etc). They literally threw everything they had at her and as a result, she has a different blood type for now. We found out much later that the total count was over 170 units of blood…which is absolutely mind-boggling.
I spent the night with her in the ICU (there was no way I was letting her out of my sight) and she was again heavily sedated and on a ventilator. They prepared us for the fact that she might be on the vent for weeks and in the hospital for months in order to recover from this trauma. Her kidneys, lungs, and other organs had taken a pretty good hit on this and they were especially concerned over how hard her kidneys now had to work in order to get rid of this excess fluid.
During all of this time, she was aware and was able to communicate with us and on Friday night, June 17th, they removed the vent and she was able to breathe on her own.
On Tuesday, June 21st, she was discharged from the hospital to go home to her older son Jaxson.
The Drs. are nothing short of astonished at the speed of her recovery. The care and caring she received from the hospital staff at Lancaster General Hospital has filled our hearts with gratitude. Everyone involved in her care from start to finish was invested in her and what she went through. We had nurses coming in to visit her who broke down in tears upon seeing her and even her one surgeon teared up when she came in to check on her a few days later.
As her mom, I have so many conflicting emotions around this.
A part of me just could not accept any other outcome. I know how strong she is and what a fighter she is. And yet, I had to face the fact that I could have been planning her funeral and not her homecoming. My mind didn’t want to go there and yet I couldn’t seem to stop it.
During all of this we have had hundreds of thousands of people praying for her and us thanks to the power of social media. I had people messaging me telling me that she was on their church prayer list and her story was shared many times over.
With all of the horror we are exposed to every day, we have proof of the kindness, light, and love that is out there in the world. The generosity and support of family, friends, and strangers has completely overwhelmed us and there are no adequate words to express our gratitude and thanks to everyone.
We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all you have done for our family. We know, without a doubt, that your prayers and energy helped Brienne fight and that we all have been part of a miracle.
P.S. In a strange twist of fate, my daughter was also the result of an emergency c section when she was born. I had a serious complication called HELLP syndrome and almost died from it (although her circumstances were much more severe and traumatic)
P.S.S. Life is so precious and short, please be brave, be grateful, and live the life you know you’re menat to live.