AFE Awareness Day - Kamm McKenzie OBGYN

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AFE Awareness Day

Previously written by Dr. Wheeler in 2020

“You have the best job” I frequently hear people say and for the most part this is true.  I have delivered thousands of babies and each time I am able to be part of the safe transition from life in the uterus, to life in the world, I realized just how blessed I am to be part of such a special part of families’ lives.  What does the future hold for this new child?  Will she be the one to finally cure cancer?  Will he someday become president?  My job really is the best…Until it isn’t.

Today is Amniotic Fluid Embolism (AFE) awareness day.  AFE is, fortunately, something that almost no one knows about because it is so rare.  However, for those of us who care for moms and babies at the most critical times in their lives, it is a rare devil, that frequently takes the life of a mother, child or both during childbirth.  Even with advanced medicine that we now have, few women survive AFE and frequently, those who do, are left with permanent disability.

Enter my miracle AFE survivor… Harmony was cared for by the KMOBGYN team throughout the entirety of her pregnancy, but she ended up seeing me fairly frequently towards the end of her pregnancy. We lamented how difficult it was to be past your due date and still pregnant. Harmony could not have been at lower risk in her pregnancy… she had had 2 prior uncomplicated vaginal deliveries, was healthy and took good care of herself throughout pregnancy. To make it easier on her family, she had planned to deliver at WakeMed North which was closer to home. Then, the unimaginable happened, while in labor, Harmony’s baby’s heart rate dropped dramatically warranting an emergency C-section. While undergoing her C-section, Harmony’s heart stopped beating and she required CPR. Harmony arrived at WakeMed as close to dead as I have ever seen a woman. It was clear she had suffered an amniotic fluid embolism. She had already lost at least half of her blood volume and was still pouring out blood when she arrived at the Surgical ICU of WakeMed. At the same time, her newborn son, Charlie had been rushed via ambulance to WakeMed because of his need for the NICU.  You can imagine the difficulty of telling a new father, who had his baby in the NICU, that I was unsure his wife would survive the night.

Through the teamwork of many people at WakeMed, and a little bit of miracle thrown in, Harmony survived! She and her son Charlie have both made a full recovery. This is not the usual outcome in women who experience AFE… and certainly not the outcome I expected for Harmony and her family. But when I get the chance to “pull one out of the arms of Jesus”… that’s when I really think, “I have the best job!”

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