Birth Experience Turns into a Fight for Life

March 12, 2018

Jessica Grib was in labor for 41 hours with her first baby. When she was preparing for the birth of her second child, her husband Kevin joked, “How are you going to top that one?” Well, top it she did.

When Jessica, who was having blood pressure issues, came in for an induction she had no idea she would soon be fighting for her life.

Because this was her second baby, Jessica knew the induction might take a while. Things were going along normally until her baby girl decided to flip, becoming breach. The team tried unsuccessfully to flip the baby and Jessica’s blood pressure jumped. When they couldn’t get it under control, they quickly did an emergency c-section. Jessica then required monitoring in the intensive care unit, and ultimately had to be moved to the cardiac catheterization lab just a few hours later.

Dr. Tim Schloss, an interventional cardiologist with Mercy Clinic Heart and Vascular, explained that following the birth of her baby Jessica developed heart failure and cardiogenic shock, a rare condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs - fatal if not treated immediately. The cardiac catheterization lab was activated to make sure she did not have a blocked or torn artery that needed repair.

Kyle Hoffman, RN, clinical nurse in the cath lab, was leading the nursing team during Jessica’s case. "Jessica was a brand new mother. The birth of a child is supposed to be a beautiful event, not one that leaves you fighting for your life,” he recalled. “Being a new father myself gave me a personal perspective on Jessica’s circumstance, and I wanted to give this new family everything I had."

Due to the cardiogenic shock and low blood pressure from heart failure, Jessica was emergently placed on an Impella percutaneous LVAD (left ventricular assist device), which kept her alive until she could be placed on more advanced life support called ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).

ECMO is a treatment that uses a pump to circulate blood through an artificial lung outside of the body back into the bloodstream, which helped Jessica’s heart rest and repair itself. Ultimately, Jessica was found to have paraganglioma, a rare and usually noncancerous tumor that had developed next to the adrenal gland. It can release hormones causing high blood pressure and can be aggravated by labor and delivery as well as surgery, a double whammy for Jessica.

With the tumor removed and some therapy to build back her strength, Jessica is again a healthy young mom. She returned to the hospital recently, along with Kevin, baby Amelia (nearly 1 year old) and her mom Patty, to visit with those who helped save her life.

“It was so surreal being in the same room with the people who gave me my life back,” Jessica said, days after the visit. “I couldn't stop looking into everyone's eyes and thanking God that they never gave up on me, even when all seemed hopeless. I never imagined I would be able to meet these wonderful people and thank them in person. I am truly blessed.”

“It was a very scary time and the staff did everything they could to make it more bearable,” Kevin said, looking back on the day. “I will never forget the people who brought my wife back to us.”

Here’s an excerpt from a letter Jessica wrote to the team prior to returning for a visit a year later:

“I experienced catecholamine-induced cardiomyopathy and you saved my life, or brought me back to life as I understand it. That thought still sends chills down my spine. I obviously have no recollection of the events that occurred – thanks to retrograde amnesia – but I’m told that you all refused to give up on me...You all will forever be my heroes. Thank you for being so close to my heart (both literally and figuratively!).”