The fabulous Danielle Flaherty and Keilan (2 months)
Danielle's pregnancy was going very well until her late third trimester when her blood pressure began to creep up and she began to have protein in her urine. No one was overly concerned at first and many of the symptoms she was having - reflux and indigestion, were written off as benign side effects of pregnancy. She was planning to deliver with midwives at her local birth center in Fairbanks but there came a point she needed to transfer care.
Danielle was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome and needed to be induced at 38 weeks, 5 days. While in the hospital she felt strongly that no one was listening to her. After laboring for 24 hours she was feeling horrible and just knew that her body wasn't going to be able to do it. She knew there was more going on but no one was taking her seriously. Danielle was having severe chest pain but was told it was just anxiety. She began asking for a cesarean but was encouraged to continue laboring and deliver vaginally. At one point Danielle felt three pops in her chest that brought some relief but was a very strange experience. She told a nurse but the event was never relayed to her doctor or included in her notes. She would later learn that this was her liver rupturing.
Soon after, they ordered a chest x-ray and as they turned her over to her side she screamed out in pain. She had become too weak to move her limbs on her own and began to refuse all medications in hopes that someone would finally listen to her. As her team stood in the hallway, her original midwife who had come to support her spoke up and the doctor finally seemed to understand the seriousness of what was happening. Danielle's says that everything suddently became an emergency. Keilan's heart rate began dropping, she was struggling to take breaths deep enough to oxygenate and before she knew it they were rushing her to the operating room.
Things moved so quickly that they made the first incision before Danielle was under anesthesia but she doesn't remember feeling pain. There was a sensation of warm, wet, fluid she thought was some sort of sterile solution but later learned that she had two liters of blood in her abdomen that she was feeling release. Doctors were able to get Keilan out and to the NICU where he did quite well. He was having some issues with his blood pressure initially as there just hadn't been anything going to Danielle's placenta anymore but IV's and oxygen were purely precautionary measures. Danielle's husband was able to go with their son to the NICU but for the first three hours of his life had no idea if Danielle was alive or what was happening with her.
Doctors initially thought that Danielle's uterus had ruptured but had to cut her vertically to explore. They soon discovered that her liver had ruptured due to hematoma's in three separate places and was basically destroyed. They surrounded her liver in medical clotting tissue and left her open in the ICU for the next 24 hours. After 24 hours, Danielle was taken back into the OR where she was closed internally but her wound was so large, the rest needed to heal open with a wound vac. Danielle woke up intubated after about 36 hours and no one can explain why she is alive today. She is so grateful to the surgeons who saved her but also thinks that she just wasn't willing to die that day.
A friend, who was a NICU nurse at their hospital advocated for Danielle to be able to meet Kielan while still in ICU and her doula was a great comfort and help in those early days. After four days in ICU and three more in the hospital, Danielle and Kielan were able to go home but the road to recovery has been long. Danielle was unable to move freely or pick up her baby and needed assistance to do most everything. She wore a wound vac for 6 weeks and just a week ago, felt that her wound closed completely. She still has one hematoma on the lobe of her liver and is still in near constant pain, but healing.
While Danielle is ultimately grateful for her life, not being able to immediately bond to her baby has been difficult. He has an amazing relationship with her husband but she says it took about three weeks before he seemed to understand that she was more than one of the many people who sometimes held him. Breastfeeding had been very important to Danielle and she was able to begin pumping about three days after Kielan was born. No one seemed to think she'd have any success so there wasn't a lot of support in the hospital but she's been able to pump about 1/3 of the milk her son needs.
Participating in this movement was important to Danielle for many reasons. HELLP Syndrome is somewhat of a rare complication of pregnancy but has a 25% maternal mortality rate worldwide and so few know about it. She had no idea it was a risk she was facing and so many of her care providers were uneducated about it's symptoms and seriousness. She also wanted to participate to embrace and celebrate her body. Many women with HELLP syndrome deliver prematurely and hers held on until her son was ready to be here. While she was still in the ICU many people told her husband that she was going to be so sad about the huge scar she's been left with but she's able to laugh at it. She didn't get any stretch marks so this gets to be her badge of honor and reminder of the gift that is both she and Kielan's life.