'It felt like we both took in the same air'
Arlington mom, battling congestive heart failure, undergoes C-section to save her baby – and herself.
Deborah Circelli Published: 6/27/2017
Lying on the operating room table with blood transfusing into her body, Tanedra DuBose looked at her fiancé, said “I love you” and took what she thought would be her last breath.
The next thing the 31-year-old mother heard were the cries of her newborn daughter as doctors feverishly worked to bring her first child into the world during an urgent C-section.
“She gasped for air and it felt like we both took in the same air,” DuBose recalled three days later in her hospital room at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville, with tears streaming down her face. “It was the most beautiful sound. They brought her up to me and I gave her a kiss. After that, I couldn’t actually believe I was alive. It was so surreal.”
Her fiancé, Johnathan, whom she first met in 7th grade on the track team at Twin Lakes Academy Middle school in Jacksonville, tried distracting her during the delivery by singing and playing her favorite country and R & B dance songs on his cell phone.
Doctors at Baptist Jacksonville had been monitoring DuBose since December 2016 because of a heart valve problem. With her health deteriorating, they performed the C-section on Jan. 20, 2017, even though she was only 30 weeks pregnant.
DuBose said she spent the day and night before praying and coming to terms with God that she might not live to meet or hold her daughter. She told her fiancé to let their daughter know she loved her very much.
She knew the odds. She had recently lost four great aunts to heart issues and signed legal papers two days before to ensure her daughter was cared for if she didn’t make it.
“My aunts were always on my mind,” DuBose said. “I thought about my baby, my family and my fiancé. In the end, if I was not able to meet her or hold her or kiss her, I knew her dad would be strong enough to raise her. I knew she would be born into a family that cared about her.”
DuBose was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in May 2015, after feeling shortness of breath and passing out at her home in Arlington, where she lives with her fiancé.
Doctors found DuBose has a leaky heart valve, known as mitral regurgitation, where blood flows backward and forces the heart to work harder to pump blood through her body while causing blood to back up into her lungs. Ultimately, this problem led to high blood pressure in her lungs known as pulmonary hypertension. She was monitored and placed on medication for her heart and blood pressure, she said.
Deciding to start a family, she became pregnant in June 2016.
But on Nov. 12—her birthday—DuBose was coughing again. She thought it might be an upper respiratory problem from the change in the weather. But as days and weeks went by, her cough became worse and she couldn’t keep food down or talk.
She also had excessive swelling in her legs and feet, but she thought it might be because she was pregnant. On Dec. 31, when she and her fiancé had planned to be in Georgia getting married, she couldn’t breathe and could barely walk.
At the Baptist Jacksonville emergency room, more than four liters of fluid were removed from her body. Doctors said they’d have to monitor her at the hospital until the baby’s birth, expected in March.
At times, depression set in.
“I would wake up not knowing what the next day would hold and would wonder if the only way I would feel my daughter is through my stomach,” DuBose said. “It was a scary time.”
Her hospital stay took a dramatic turn on Jan. 18 when the fluid once again built up in her body and lungs and she became short of breath. Doctors told her they would have to take the baby in the next 24 to 48 hours.
“It was a very tenuous situation and she started to deteriorate,” said Kathryn S. Villano, MD, medical director for Regional Obstetric Consultants, who specializes in maternal-fetal medicine and was involved throughout her pregnancy. “She had a mortality risk of 30 to 40 percent during delivery or shortly after. She is definitely a success story.”
Rahil Malik, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist with North Florida OB/GYN who performed the C-section, said DuBose had several medical issues such as heart failure, anemia and large uterine fibroids that could have complicated the delivery process.
“We had to operate rapidly to make sure blood loss was minimal,” Dr. Malik said.
Coordinated care was the key. Multiple specialists of more than a dozen physicians and nurses were involved throughout her pregnancy, including maternal-fetal medicine, intensive care, cardiology, neonatology, anesthesia and pulmonology.
“One of the benefits of delivering at Baptist Jacksonville is that our physicians are routinely exposed to medically complex patients and can coordinate care with multiple specialists,” Dr. Malik said. “Had (DuBose) been at a small, suburban hospital without these specialists and services available, she may not have had such a positive outcome.”
A beautiful rose
DuBose said it’s been a tough journey, but she was never alone.
Her fiancé, family and extended family were by her side. The team at Baptist Jacksonville in Labor and Delivery, on the Postpartum and Newborn floors and in the Intensive Care Unit gave her encouragement and hugs throughout her stay, from nursing to housekeeping.
“It brought tears to my eyes. It’s refreshing to know your life means something to someone other than your family,” DuBose said. “I don’t have the words to express how this hospital, this team, this group of people have treated me and my family.”
Cicely Brooks, perinatal services director for Baptist Health and vice president of Patient Care Operations for Wolfson Children's Hospital, said she was very proud of the level of care the teams were able to provide DuBose, including teams in the ICU and operating room as well as neonatal care providers, OB staff and specialists.
“Everyone was on the same page when it came to having a safe delivery,” Brooks said. “Our team was able to pull everything together and go above and beyond to make sure she was comfortable. We treated her like family because she could be a family member.”
Today, as she recovers, DuBose steals moments with her new baby girl and she’s grateful they both are alive.
In the Wolfson Children’s Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit, she reached through a small hole in the specialized enclosed bed and touched her three-pound daughter’s delicate hand. She then whispered, “Savannah. It’s your momma. Hey, gorgeous.”
Her daughter is doing well, Brooks said, and continues to develop with the help of a tiny feeding tube.
“I always prayed and asked God what is my purpose in life. I never knew until now,” DuBose said. “I found out my purpose is to share my story to give someone else hope and to let them know it will be OK if you just trust in prayer.”
She is also encouraging others to listen to their body.
“I don’t care if you think it is something minor, don’t ignore the signs. If something doesn’t sit well with you, go get it checked,” she said.
As she looks to the future, which will involve a repair of her heart valve, and taking her daughter home, DuBose and her mom have nicknamed her Baby Rose because of her rosy color.
“She came from this dark place (a body battling health issues) and she blossomed into this beautiful rose,” she said.