Katie & Ethan's Story of HELLP
Posted On Friday, October 11, 2013 by Katie
Ethan will be turning 3 at the end of this month (October). The month of October always brings up some scary memories and emotions for me... I never thought I would have a difficult pregnancy or labor. After all, why would I? Only two years earlier I had given birth to a healthy, nearly 8 pound baby boy. That pregnancy was free of complications. Birth was easy... Got to the hospital at 7cm dilated - got an IV and epidural and 7 hours later baby came out!
However, I was completely wrong! The pregnancy of our second son was troubled right from the start... A lot of pain and discomfort, poor outcomes of a first trimester screen, a CVS, and a lot of unanswered questions. It was fall and I was supposed to be going to see my sister and take my son and her daughter to Salem, MA for a Halloween event. I had been having terrible headaches lately though and just feeling unusually lousy and tired. I mentioned this to my OBGYN but she didn’t think much of it. I ended up attributing the headaches however to fall in New England and drafty windows. I passed on going for the Halloween event as I was just too tired. Monday came around and I went to work as usual and then to my parents house to pick up Michael, my 2 year old son. I sat on her couch and my Mom yelled as if something were terribly wrong. One look at my legs said it all! They were grossly swollen.
My Mom had been a nurse her whole life and took my blood pressure – it was high 165 / 80. I called the doctor's office immediately and they took me right in. They took my blood pressure and panic mode set in amongst everyone... 208 / 108 - apparently that is dangerously high! I knew nothing much of blood pressures other than 120 / 60 was a good number to be at, the number I have been at for most of my adult life. A quick urine test was given and I was dumping protein at +4. The OB/GYN’s office called our medical center but the ambulance company wouldn’t pick me up without receiving a dose of magnesium as they didn't want me to seize. My doctor drove me to the hospital across the street and dropped me off at the door. I was quickly whisked away and pumped full of magnesium. I was then transported to the Medical Center by ambulance where a slew of doctors, neonatologists, nurses, and ultrasound techs all gathered around discussing me and my situation. I was terrified as none of this was making sense and I did not realize everything that was going on. I just had a terrible headache and wanted to go home!
Over the next 5 days the blood pressures couldn’t be controlled. I'd have shots of hydralizine and magnesium being pumped into my system around the clock. The second night I was there, I was using the bathroom and somehow my IV just popped right out of my arm. Blood was spurting everywhere. It took hours to get the IV back in. My skin was turning black and blue just from slight pressure. The constant magnesium drip was turning me into a zombie! Magnesium just makes everything so blah! It was work for me to have a conversation, get out of bed to pee, etc. My whole body was swelling and filling with fluid. It was hard for the nurses to find my veins to put new IV's in or to check my blood for mag levels, kidney function tests, etc.
On the 4th night at the hospital, my body started to take a turn for the worst. My platelets were dropping at an alarming rate and my liver and kidneys were starting to not function properly. My body was shutting down. I had the worst headache of my life; it was relentless! The call was made to induce me as it was clear to the doctors that I had developed HELLP syndrome. I begged for a C-Section - I was exhausted, mentally and physically. I didn't know how I could even stand labor. The doctors did not want to perform a caesarian though because I would have to be put under general anesthesia and then my blood transfused as my platelets were at 52,000. The induction was started by a balloon thing at 9 am on Saturday 10/30. It "fell-out" relatively quickly. By late afternoon I had started to dilate. I couldn’t feel any of the contractions but the monitors said I was having them. The doctor checked me and I was 5 cm dilated around 6 pm. I asked for an epidural anyway fearing natural childbirth but the anesthesiologist wouldn’t give me an epidural either due to the low platelet count. The doctor hadn’t even turned around and something felt strange. I needed to get up and go to the bathroom, but they wouldn’t let me. They re-checked me and I went from 5 to 10 cm dilated in less than a minute! They tried to give me oxygen and get me to relax but I wanted none of that. Something was wrong and I knew it but I couldn’t verbalize it because all the magnesium had affected my thinking and speech.
All of a sudden I got a sharp stabbing pain in my eyes and temple. The machines beeped and my blood pressure was extremely high. A shot of hydralizne was quickly administered through my IV which dropped it dangerously low... and then everything turned black. All I could see was a black ring. I could hear voices but had no idea what was going on. I yelled that I couldn’t see. It didn't feel as if I was in labor - what the heck was going on. I don't even know when Ethan came out. I don't know what he looked like, what he smelled like, what he felt like. I couldn’t see him! He was quickly whisked away by the NICU team.
Ethan was born at 6:02 pm - apparently blue and floppy. He was revived by the neonatologists and put on a C-Pap machine. He was 2 pounds and 15 ounces, 15 inches long, and 9 weeks early. I couldn’t see anything but a black ring – I was blind and terrified of never seeing what my son looked like or being able to look at my other beautiful child, Michael. Thoughts were swarming my head… thoughts of my husband, my parents, and my family. How was everyone going to take care of my children; what awful burden and heartache have I caused?
I would be woken up at 3 am by a team of doctors that night to be told: We think you may have had a stroke. I was devastated! My husband called my mother and sister and they drove to the hospital in the middle of the night to be by my side. I was brought to CT scan. The stretcher ride through the hospital hurt my eyes – everything was black but points of light beamed through. It was twisted and distorted. The lights were painful to look at – I would see trails of light everywhere. The nurses then brought me in to see Ethan. Ethan was under the blue light in the NICU and I couldn’t even have my eyes open because it hurt to bad. The NICU nurse asked “What do you think of him (Ethan)?” All I could respond back was that “I can’t see him.” I cried!
I couldn’t walk to or wheel myself to the NICU from my room. I'd have to wait for the nurse or a family member to bring me because I couldn’t open my eyes in the hallway. I still couldn’t see although things were lightening up and not looking as dark. I was told that because my whole body and head was swollen and filled with fluid from the severe pre-eclampsia that when my blood pressure rose and dropped significantly that I had small hemorrhages behind my eyes. Thankfully, no stroke! With time, the hemorrhages would heal. I would be discharged 3 days later with two blood pressure medications that were to be taken every 6 hours.
My parents invited me and my husband and our 2 year old Michael to stay with them until I was better. I got there late afternoon on November 2. The next morning my husband and I went to visit Ethan. I was standing over his isolette and something didn’t feel right. I became sweaty and had another terrible headache. A nurse asked me if I was alright as I was very pale. She instructed me to go be seen by the doctors. I was quickly re-admitted as a Patient as my blood pressure again was extremely high. My five year anniversary was spent in the hospital. I spent a total of 12 days in the hospital all together.
Ethan would spend a total of 34 days in the hospital. I am extremely lucky though to have him alive. He had some expected hurdles early on such as brachycardia, a small brain hemorrhage, feeding issues, and reflux. He will be three at the end of this month. He is now strong and healthy. He is the happiest guy I know. He is so full of life and has so much love to give! There has not been one day that goes by where I haven’t thought about some part of whole ordeal. I am very happy and relieved knowing that Ethan is happy, smart, and healthy. I am saddened by the fact that I should not have children again. I am truly blessed though as the death rate for HELLP babies is as high as 25%. I am one of the lucky one’s! I thank all the doctors for saving my life and my baby's life. I wish that more was known by woman all around the world and the medical community about HELLP syndrome.
After surviving a very traumatic first pregnancy with a nightmare delivery (30 hours of magnesium-induced hell, ending in an emergency c-section) and even more debilitating recovery, one would think I was DONE having children. Let's be ...