Rochester mother revived after deadly pregnancy complication shares her story

March 20, 2019 06:41 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- The number of women who are dying during or immediately following childbirth is drastically increasing.

On Wednesday, the New York State Assembly approved a measure that would establish a review board to dig down into the data and determine why and what doctors can do to better protect women in the delivery room.

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A Rochester mother who was miraculously revived after suffering a deadly complication shared her story with News10NBC as a warning to others.

Looking at Jennifer and Rick Wallenhorst and their son RJ today, you'd never know the struggle it took to get here.

"We had three retrievals, nine transfers, three miscarriages and then a surgery and after the surgery this pregnancy stuck so we were obviously over the moon excited about it," Wallenhorst recalls of her journey.  

The pregnancy went pretty smooth after that, until delivery.  

After a day in labor and hours of pushing, RJ's heart rate dropped and he had to be delivered via emergency C-section.

Doctors rushed RJ to the NICU and Rick followed. 

Jennifer was taken into recovery while the anesthesia wore off.

"Apparently, I woke up and said 'something is wrong, I don't feel good' and immediately went into a seizure, stopped breathing, went into cardiac arrest and flat-lined for four minutes," she says. 

Days later, when she woke up with a breathing tube and no memory of what happened, all she thought was, "where's my baby, where my baby, I want to see my baby...I kept writing it down," she recalls.

Using a notepad to communicate with her doctor, she asked what happened.

"She wrote, amniotic fluid embolism and circled it," Jennifer recalls.

The Wallenhorsts had never heard of an amniotic fluid embolism. Most people haven't.

"An AFE is when small amounts of matter or particles from the amniotic fluid, whether that's fetal skin cells or the fluid itself get into the maternal circulation and cause what we call an anaphylactoid reaction, meaning kind of an allergic reaction," explains Dr. Loralei Thornburg, director of maternal-fetal medicine at URMC.  

AFE happens to about 1 in 100,000 women and 60-80 percent of them die.

"This is the woman who is in labor talking to you and then dies, like goes from alive to sudden acute collapse," Dr. Thornburg says.

Jennifer believes the reason she survived is because she was still in the recovery room surrounded by doctors.

Dr. Thornburg says that's probably true. 

"The survivals are poor but you would definitely have a better chance if you were to have this in a hospital surrounded by people. In her case, it happened in an operating room which in some ways is the best case scenario because you're next to the machines that are used to take care of your heart and your breathing and the blood and medicine you would need to for a chance at survival."

When Jennifer was finally able to hold baby RJ, "it was bittersweet because all I wanted was that skin to skin...I was just so grateful and blessed that we were both there, just didn't want anything else to happen," she recalls.

Jennifer is now participating in a study being conducted at Baylor University on AFE.

She's hoping her story can help others.

While AFE comes on very quickly and really doesn't show symptoms until it's overtaking the body, Jennifer's advice to every mom is simple, "be aware that after delivery, if something doesn't feel right, it might not be… because anything can happen so fast."

For more information on AFE, click here.


Jennifer Lewke

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