Caregivers save mom & baby after rare childbirth emergency: amniotic fluid embolism

Dad and mom with baby son

A sense of impending doom is how Kristi Weaver, DO, describes what could be a potential warning sign of amniotic fluid embolism (AFE) – a rare but life-threatening condition that most commonly occurs during labor and delivery.

“Amniotic fluid embolism is when some of the amniotic fluid from inside of the uterus gets into the maternal bloodstream and lung circulation and can cause cardiovascular collapse,” said Dr. Weaver, an OB-GYN at Overland Park Regional Medical Center in Overland Park, Kansas.  “One minute the patient is fine and the next, their heart is no longer beating.”

“There are occasionally some warning signs immediately prior, indicating, something we refer to in medicine as, a sense of impending doom,” she added. “A patient may report things like, ‘I don’t feel well’ or ‘something is wrong with me’ or ‘I can’t breathe,’ but it’s literally moments before their heart stops.”

That’s exactly what happened to Meghan Jolliffe.

Dr. Weaver recalls that Meghan was progressing beautifully during labor when she suddenly sat up, said she couldn’t breathe and then she was gone.

The healthcare team immediately wheeled Meghan to the operating room – at the time, not knowing what caused her heart to stop – delivered the baby within seconds and performed CPR, pushed medicines and resuscitated her.

The rest of the day was spent treating Meghan and her baby and hoping they would survive.

“The maternal mortality rate of amniotic fluid embolism is approximately 80 to 90 percent,” Dr. Weaver said. “Most patients who suffer from AFE don’t make it through the first hour. The benefit we have is typically, these women are young and healthy, and we can support them long enough to turn around this process.”

Meghan had a total of four surgeries and around 110 units of blood products in the first few days, trying to correct the lack of blood clotting – a complication of AFE and something the Overland Park caregivers were on alert and ready for.

“There are not many places in the city that could’ve done what we did that day,” Dr. Weaver explained. “Surviving amniotic fluid embolism is being in the right place at the right time and around the right medical staff that can manage the emergency.”

“Although this is not something we see every day, everyone knew what to do and worked together to save Meghan and her baby,” she added. “There were not many people in the hospital that didn’t know about these two because almost everyone was involved in their care. From the initial labor and delivery staff to anesthesia to the ICU and OR teams to neonatology and the NICU staff to the lab and to the blood bank – the effort that this entire hospital put into the two of them that day was remarkable.”

Meet Meghan and her husband, Jeff, as they retell the story from their perspective and share their care experience at Overland Park Regional Medical Center. HCA Healthcare internal audience can watch the video here.   

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