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'Love kept me hanging on’

Rare postpartum condition presents serious problems for mom.

Article Author: Beth Stambaugh

Article Date:

Little infant lying in bassinette.
Baby Emeri's mother showed immense strength following her delivery | Photo credit: L. West Photography, LLC.

As her due date neared in November 2020, 37-year-old Michelle Fudge couldn’t wait to welcome her third baby. Her past deliveries went well, so she had no reason to expect this one would be any different.

When labor began five weeks early, Michelle was concerned, knowing premature babies have a higher risk for lung issues. She rushed to the Labor Delivery Recovery and Postpartum (LDRP) unit at Baptist Medical Center South, where her beautiful 6-pound, 9-ounce baby girl, Emeri, made her glorious debut.

“I heard her cries and I knew she was fine. She was perfect, and they laid her on my chest. It was a wonderful feeling,” said Michelle. “But then, things started to go left.”

Problem with the placenta

Soon after baby Emeri arrived, it became obvious that Michelle’s post-labor wasn’t going as it should.

After a baby is born, the placenta (which provides oxygen and nutrients to the baby in the womb) usually detaches naturally from the uterus and is “delivered.” But in this case, that wasn’t happening.

Michelle’s obstetrician, Nikita Wilkes, MD, with Baptist Medical Center South, tried a number of maneuvers to get the placenta to release, but nothing worked.

“Michelle had a rare condition called placenta accreta, which is when the placenta attaches too deeply in the uterine wall,” said Dr. Wilkes.

While extremely rare – only .02% of pregnancies have this condition – placenta accreta is serious. Because the placenta is so firmly entrenched in the uterus, getting it to separate causes blood loss, which was occurring at an alarming rate in Michelle’s situation.

“An ultrasound usually detects placenta accreta, but not always,” said Dr. Wilkes. “This was totally unexpected and we had to spring into action quickly. Our team is trained and prepared for emergencies like this and knew exactly what to do.”

Michelle could tell her situation was becoming serious. “I heard medical terms being shouted out and a mass of doctors and nurses rushed into my room. Then a table with surgical instruments was wheeled in.”

She needed a procedure called a dilation and curettage (D&C) to quickly expel the placenta from the uterus. After several minutes, the bleeding got worse.

Michelle remembers her husband, Jamaal, by her side trying to comfort her.

“I knew something was really wrong when he looked scared. He’s a tough guy – a retired professional football player – and he’s usually very calm,” she said.

Slipping away

The next thing she knew, Michelle saw the lights on the ceiling whizzing by as she was rushed down the hall to the operating room, which is located on the OB floor of Baptist South to provide fast access for emergency procedures just like this.

Dr. Wilkes inserted a device, known as a balloon, into Michelle’s uterus to stop the hemorrhaging and performed a uterine massage to keep the bleeding at bay.

When she awoke from the procedure, Michelle initially felt fine, but soon she had an overwhelming feeling that something wasn’t right. In and out of consciousness with a breathing tube down her throat, she kept trying to articulate her fears.

“I felt like the life was leaving my body. I was very sleepy, and I was frightened,” she said. “I felt like I was slipping away.”

“Then all the machines started beeping and going off. I heard Dr. Wilkes activate the rapid response team. It was very scary,” Michelle added. “I didn’t even know if they could understand me, but I was desperate to live. I screamed out that I needed blood.”

Her blood pressure plummeted to 80/40 (normal is 120/80) and she received eight pints of blood to replace what she lost. The average person’s body normally contains about 10.5 pints of blood.

Michelle needed an emergency hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) to stop the postpartum hemorrhaging, and it needed to happen fast.

“This was a life-threatening situation,” said Dr. Wilkes. “We mobilized our medical team quickly to do whatever it would take to save her life. Everyone, from the nursing staff to the surgical team, knew exactly what to do and we worked together to give Michelle the best chance of surviving.”

Michelle found inner strength she didn’t even know she had.

“I yelled out to the team not to give up on me. I needed to be there for my baby. I couldn’t leave my husband alone to care for our three children without me,” she said.

After several blood transfusions, Michelle’s vitals finally began to stabilize, but the next few days would be critical. She was monitored in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) around the clock.

Road to recovery

After 12 hours away from her husband and new baby, Michelle was finally stable enough to be transferred out of ICU.

Her situation started to look up, and she was finally able to hold little Emeri and give her daughter the love she desperately fought for.

Michelle and baby Emeri

“My heart overflows with appreciation and gratitude for the medical team at Baptist South,” she said, choking back tears. “Dr. Wilkes was so amazing. She told me during a follow-up appointment how invested she was to make sure I was OK. And my nurse, Joni Smith, was with me every step of the way.

“I could hear the concern from my care team, not only for me but for my husband as well,” she added. Because of COVID-19, Jamaal was the only visitor accompanying Michelle.

“Everyone at Baptist South made us feel like family,” Michelle said. “The hospital chaplain visited us in the ICU and prayed with us. Even the person delivering our food made sure we were taken care of.”

Fast forward

Today, baby Emeri is a curious and energetic 5-month-old. Michelle was able to return to her job as a clinical research coordinator four months after coming home from the hospital.

photo of baby Emeri

Michelle is beyond thankful to be here for her three kids and husband. She would like others to know that advocating for yourself in medical situations can make the difference between life and death.

“It’s up to each of us to use our voices and let our care providers know what we are experiencing. It’s also important to choose a doctor you feel comfortable being completely honest with, as I did with Dr. Wilkes,” she said. “It’s sad, but maternal mortality is higher among African Americans."

Black women die during pregnancy or childbirth at a rate two to three times higher than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I am grateful the medical team really listened to me and took such quick action. This was my second time delivering at Baptist South, and I’ve had excellent outcomes with two different doctors,” Michelle said. “Even though it was a frightening experience, they made sure my story had a joyful ending.”

Baptist Medical Center South offers comprehensive, state-of-the-art care for high-risk pregnancies. Newborns who need a higher level of care are transferred to the on-site Wolfson Children’s Hospital Level II Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Learn more at baptistjaxld.com.

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