When Stephanie Arnold was expecting her second child, she had a sinking feeling something was going to go wrong.
The Illinois mother’s instincts were right. Within seconds of giving birth to her son via C-section, she coded on the operating table. Her heart stopped for 37 seconds.
“My heart stopped. All electrical signals went to zero,” Arnold told television station CBS Chicago.
Her ob-gyn, Dr. Julie Levitt, and the anesthesiologist diagnosed an amniotic fluid embolism, a condition where the amniotic fluid enters the mother’s bloodstream and can trigger respiratory failure and cardiac arrest. While incidences of amniotic fluid embolism are considered rare, the condition is the second leading cause of maternal death in the United States and the United Kingdom. The most recent data suggests 40 percent of women who have the condition die from it.
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Arnold and her son, Jacob, survived without any permanent damage. She spent six days in a coma and weeks in the hospital recovering. Arnold credits her survival to her foresight.
“It was so raw. It was the feeling that I had was I was going to die. There was no question,” Arnold said.
In conversations with her anesthesiologist leading up to her surgery, Arnold decided to change her anesthesia order to include more blood and more monitors. “And that is 100 percent what saved my life. No question,” Arnold said.
Arnold says she doesn’t take anything for granted. “I take deeper breaths. I savor every single moment with my family.”
While childbearing is a lot safer these days, some women still face complications. In May, a Houston teacher was 36 weeks pregnant when her heart stopped and she collapsed in her school’s hallway.
Erica Nigrelli’s colleagues performed CPR and used a defibrillator to jumpstart her heart, and she was transported to a nearby hospital -- all while her heart wasn’t beating, Click 2 Houston reports. Her child, Elayna, technically had a postmortem birth. After she was delivered, doctors were able to revive Nigrelli, who was diagnosed with an undetected heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Both mother and child are now doing well.
"Apparently I told her I feel very faint and I put my head down and I essentially just passed out," Nigrelli, who collapsed in front of a co-worker, told Keye TV.
Nigrelli’s husband, Nathan, is a teacher at the same school and witnessed part of the incident. “Your daughter, your wife -- your whole entire reason for being is on the ground,” he said.