When Danielle, 31 and pregnant, arrived at the Carolinas HealthCare System Union emergency department in February, she was close to losing her own life – and never getting the chance to meet her unborn child.
Danielle Gaither was born with Marfan Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that can cause heart conditions. On that day in February, Danielle was experiencing an aortic dissection, and her body was shutting down. The wall of her aorta was tearing, cutting off circulation to her organs and to her unborn baby.
After a transfer to Carolinas Medical Center, the lives of Danielle and her baby were both saved thanks to nearly 20 care-team members, six hours in the operating room, and two major surgeries – performed at the very same time.
When Jeko Madjarov, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon with Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, got word that Danielle was on her way to Carolinas Medical Center, he made the quick but unconventional call to perform two major operations – open-heart surgery and a cesarean section – simultaneously, in an effort to save both lives.
“The gold standard of treating aortic dissection is circulatory arrest, which is a surgical technique that stops blood circulation. But Danielle’s son needed blood flow in order to survive,” says Dr. Madjarov of the extremely rare case he faced. “The only way to save Danielle and her son was to perform open-heart surgery and deliver Danielle’s son essentially at the same time.”
Once the decision was made to try to save both lives, four different teams, including anesthesiology, neonatology, cardiothoracic surgery and obstetrics, assembled for six hours of delicate, highly coordinated and synchronized surgery.
“What amazes me is how our teams worked so well together,” says Joseph T. McGinn, MD, Sanger’s chair of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, who oversaw the double surgery that day. “They knew what they had to do in a high-risk situation. And this time, it’s extra special, because coordinated teamwork across sub-specialties led to two lives being saved.”
Heather Bane, MD, obstetrician and gynecologist with Myers Park Pediatrics, performed the emergency cesarean and coordinated with the neonatology team.
“Danielle’s son had a tough start at the beginning of his life, because he wasn’t receiving enough oxygen before delivery,” says Dr. Bane. “But thanks to an amazing team, he’s a happy, healthy baby.”
Road to Recovery
Danielle faces a lengthy road to recovery – and she still has a long way to go. But she knows that without the care she received, she might not be here at all.
“It was a miracle that I had my baby. I died three times,” she says. “I’m glad that I’m here and I thank Dr. Madjarov and the team, along with God, for saving my life.”
And after months of gaining strength, Danielle finally had the chance to meet her son in June – a meeting she says was worth the wait.