ST. PAUL — Liana Albers stood in the atrium of Regions Hospital on Friday — her daughter’s first birthday — and thanked the people who saved both of their lives a year ago.
"I’m just so grateful," said the 30-year-old Maplewood woman in a voice shaky with emotion. "I get to be with my daughter every day because I survived. … It’s such a blessing. … Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart."
The medical staff smiled, clapped and wiped away tears as they watched the 30-year-old mother hold her daughter, Lydia, who wore a T-shirt that proclaimed, "One tiny miracle."
They are both miracles; they are both survivors.
Initially, though, this was not a birth that anyone at the Regions Family Birth Center in downtown St. Paul expected would need an assist from the trauma team, a crew of anesthesiologists, the special care nursery, the surgical intensive care unit or the neurology unit.
It was supposed to be an ordinary miracle.
"She was getting induced at the time," remembers Luke Albers, Liana’s husband and Lydia’s father.
The ordinary turned extraordinary suddenly.
"The baby’s heart rate went up, or her pressure went up, so they rotated her and all of a sudden she started seizing up," he remembers. "They rushed her out of there. I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew it wasn’t good."
What was happening was an amniotic fluid embolism. Explains Dr. Charles Lais, chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department at HealthPartners: "Amniotic fluid gets into the circulation and causes an allergic-type reaction."
In this mother’s case, the reaction was catastrophic: She stopped breathing.
Julie Nault was the charge nurse on duty that morning.
"It was probably one of the scariest days," Nault says. "She was about 19 minutes into my shift and we were in the OR (operating room) and everything was happening. It was something I’d never experienced before — and I’ve been here 17 years."
Thanks to the turbocharged staff at this Level 1 trauma facility — and all the drills they do to prepare for unlikely emergencies such as this one — the baby was born by emergency cesarean section in just three minutes.
The baby was — is — fine; the crisis was not over for Albers, though: She began bleeding during surgery, she says, and went into cardiac arrest.
"I had to be resuscitated — twice," she says.
Her mother, Cheryl Ouellette, remembers when the phone rang that morning.
"It was 7:35," Ouellette says. "The doctor said, ‘Don’t speed, but you need to get to Regions Hospital.'"
What the grandmother found when she got to the hospital was a healthy newborn, a distraught father and a new mother — her daughter — on a ventilator.
"It was very, very traumatic," Ouellette says.
After Albers regained consciousness, it became clear that her recovery was just beginning: She had suffered a stroke — initially, she had trouble speaking as well as other issues.
A year later, her recovery continues; however, on Friday it was difficult to believe that she was ever close to death as she bustled around, held her baby, chatted with people and delivered bagels, coffee and pastries to the hospital staff in gratitude and celebration. She and her daughter were really giving the staff more than breakfast, though: For a moment, the roles of patients and caregivers were reversed.
"This has been healing for everyone here," says Chris Withbroe, nurse manager.