Mother’s Day Miracle: Multiple St. Paul’s medical teams save life of pregnant BC mom and her baby
Submitted by Ann Gibbon, senior communications specialist, Communications & Public Affairs
Mother’s Day held a very special significance for a young Vancouver Island woman this year.
It was just as special for the many medical teams at St. Paul’s Hospital that came together under extreme pressure and high stakes in April to save the life of Brittany Forrest and her unborn child.
The 26-year-old Courtenay woman’s saga began in March, when her otherwise normal pregnancy began to go wrong. She felt “gross,” with fatigue and sharp shoulder pain. She went to her doctor, then local emergency department. Doctors said it could be a flu or pregnancy-related discomfort.
The symptoms didn’t stop. She continued to visit her ER. During one visit she stopped breathing briefly, a symptom of heart failure. It was challenging for her doctors to make a diagnosis, since heart-failure symptoms often mimic pregnancy symptoms.
But by now, her doctors strongly suspected heart issues and had her airlifted April 2 to St. Paul’s, world-renowned for its cardiology expertise. She was admitted to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) where she had signs and symptoms of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. She was seven months pregnant.
St. Paul’s teams worked seamlessly together to provide care, including the cardiac obstetrics team, the maternal fetal medicine team, anesthesia, obstetrics and heart transplant/heart failure experts. Dr. Mustafa Toma, St. Paul’s cardiologist in the heart failure/heart transplant unit, was on standby in case a mechanical device was required to help her heart beat.
Brittany’s condition was stable for several days but she was extremely unwell. As St. Paul’s obstetrician, Dr. Elisabet Joa, who was involved in the case said, “We were hoping for the best but planning for the worst.”
Suddenly, at about 3 am on April 12, she went into cardiac arrest. A Code Blue was called.
The care team was hastily paged and raced to the hospital to save mom and baby’s life. They started CPR. Dr. Joa performed an emergency caesarean section at her bedside in under seven minutes and brought a tiny boy into the world at 3:25 am on April 12 – two months early. Brittany was moved to the operating room and placed on a life-support machine called ECMO to perform the work of her heart. At one point some 25 clinicians worked feverishly to save the lives of mother and child.
OR staff members were also vital to Brittany’s care and positive outcome. Nurse Vera Felicio scrubbed for Jaxon’s C-section delivery and her involvement was instrumental. She did so without her colleague, Brendan Morgan, who stayed behind to call in the cardiac team. Nurse Manjusha Unnikrishnan circulated (made sure all team members had what they needed) and Nurse Alyscia Dang scrubbed for Brittany’s cardiac surgery.
Their heroic efforts mean both mom and son are doing well. Baby Jaxon, nicknamed “Champ” before the family settled on his name, weighed just three pounds, 11 ounces at birth and was transferred to BC Children’s Hospital, where his care continues. Brittany has been discharged from St. Paul’s and is staying in Vancouver until Jaxon is well enough to go home, likely June, where he will join his other siblings. He is off his respiratory mask, is feeding well and has gained weight.
Dr. Joa says she has not seen such a dramatic case in her 15 years as an obstetrician/gynecologist. “It was highly emotional,” she allows. She credits the skilled, focused work of St. Paul’s nurses, doctors and clinicians, and technology like the ECMO machine, funded by St. Paul’s Foundation. She believes if this had happened anywhere but St. Paul’s, the outcome would have been different.
Brittany calls Jaxon her miracle baby. “If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have gotten medical help and found out about my heart condition.” And she says her healthcare team at St. Paul’s are miracle workers for giving baby Jaxon a chance at life and her, a second chance. “My family is profoundly grateful.”
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