Eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome Survivor

Post On Friday, July 19, 2013 By Kristen

Eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome Survivor

Our first child, Ellie Katherine, was born on Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 at 5:02 am via c-section. She was 4 pounds, 4 ounces, and 16 and 1/2 inches long and was born at 37 weeks gestation. Her birth was a total whirlwind, but I'll start with what was happening a week before she was born. I went for my 36-week checkup and I had elevated blood pressure and protein in my urine. I was also swollen beyond recognition. All three of these symptoms are characteristic of preeclampsia, and I had protein in my urine for several weeks in a row by now. Ellie's heartbeat was good and my belly measured normal, so the doctor had me lay down for about half an hour and then came back and did my blood pressure again. It had lowered slightly, but was still considered above normal (and preeclamptic). I was advised to just rest at home and not do too much (which is so hard at the very end of a pregnancy when you're trying to get everything done!). I was a little freaked out, and I remember asking my doctor if I had preeclampsia because I had all three symptoms, and she just said, "No, you just need to go home and relax." So that's what I tried to do. 

The next day, I was feeling pretty crummy. Nauseous, light-headed, extremely swollen. I went to a local pharmacy and took my blood pressure on one of their machines and it was 160/90. I called my OBGYN's office and asked to speak to a nurse, told her what I was feeling and that my bp seemed high, and she talks to the doctor (not my doctor, since she was on-call at the hospital that day). They tell me I just need to rest and relax at home, that it's not a big deal, and that the bp machines at stores aren't accurate anyway. Meanwhile, my mom is very upset and insisting that my blood pressure was not normal.  I tell her that the doctor says I'm fine so I just go on with my day, trusting that the doctor knows best. 

A week later, we had a birthday party to attend about an hour from home.  I felt pretty awful that day (again I experienced headaches, nausea, swollen feet and hands, breathlessness) but assumed it was just because of being 37 weeks pregnant. We got home late that night and I was exhausted.

I woke up around 3:00 am and went to pee (go figure!). After using the bathroom I noticed a terrible pain in my abdomen, like someone had punched me in the gut, so I grabbed a bottle of water and sat on the couch just trying to relax and hoping it would go away. I then had some extreme nausea and thought I was going to throw up, so I stood over the toilet for a minute and realized the pain was not going away. I woke my husband up and explained that I felt horrible and then sat on the bathroom floor leaning over the toilet just waiting to throw up. My husband brought the birthing ball in the bathroom for me to lean on, which I leaned on for a few minutes trying to get the pain to go away. I knew I wasn't in labor because the pain wasn't coming in waves, it was just constant discomfort that was making it hard for me to breathe. After a couple of minutes of watching me laying on the bathroom floor with no relief, my husband suggested we go to the hospital. I agreed, got dressed, and we ran out the door. We made it maybe a mile or two in the car and then I told my husband to pull over and call 911 because I was having trouble breathing. We went into a church parking lot and waited for the ambulance to arrive. I remember sitting in the car just wondering what was wrong with me and why the pain wouldn't go away. I kept asking my husband where the ambulance was, and I remember curling in a ball in the front seat of the car because I didn't know what to do. The ambulance arrived and loaded me up, and that's the last thing I remember.  

According to my husband, we made it to the hospital, I got changed into a gown, and I was still complaining about the pain and having trouble breathing. As the hospital staff was assessing me, I sat up on the bed and told them I couldn't see, and then I started seizing. The staff then realized that I had eclampsia, which is preeclampsia that has gone undiagnosed to the point of seizures. They immediately sent me in to have a C-section. 

 I had intrauterine growth restriction because of my high blood pressure, which is the reason our daughter was only 4 pounds at 37 weeks gestation. She was sent straight to the NICU for evaluation, but other than being really small she was very healthy. She never needed respiratory support, and she only had a feeding tube because it was protocol, which she promptly ripped out. Because I was placed under general anesthesia for the C-section I was completely out for her delivery and I was very groggy in recovery. 

The next day, things took a turn for the worse. I was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome and transferred to another hospital.  I received four blood transfusions and a bag of platelets in order to fix some of the damage caused by HELLP.  I was also given magnesium sulfate to treat the eclampsia.  I was hospitalized for seven days while recovering. I experienced jaundice, edema, low oxygen saturation, pneumonia, central serous retinopathy (a leak in my retina caused by the seizure which temporarily altered my vision), and hallucinations (due to the magnesium).

During this time, my daughter remained in the NICU.  She was four days old before I actually met her in person.  I was confused and disoriented and also experienced some difficulties bonding with my child due to my health issues.  I think I was still in shock over what had happened and just didn't know how to cope.  Thankfully, my husband was very supportive of both of us and spent a lot of time bonding with our daughter while I recovered.

Our baby girl came home after being in the NICU for 10 days.  She was perfectly healthy, strong, spunky, and feisty.  Despite all the craziness surrounding her birth, she had no complications.  Honestly, the only thing that would indicate the circumstances of her birth was her size.  Otherwise, she was (and still is) the most normal, perfect baby.  She will be turning three next month.  I had another daughter a year and a half later with no complications, and we are expecting our third baby next year (praying for another healthy pregnancy!).

A verse that really encouraged me after I came home from the hospital was Psalm 50:15, which says, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me."  God heard our prayers and rescued me.  I know I can never come close to displaying God's glory and power, but I want Ellie's birth story to always be a testament to His faithfulness.  He is the reason for everything we do.  He's the reason that we survived.  God is real, powerful, perfect, loving, and just.  I know He gave me this experience for His purpose, and I am honored and humbled that he chose me and Ellie to tell just a little bit about how amazing He is.

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