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Matter of life, near-death

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The sharp, shooting pain radiated outward, growing more intense with every minute.

Allie Hershberger had grown used to the aches and pains of her first pregnancy. But this was entirely new, and frightening. It started in her chest, then seemed to spread to her back and left arm.

Within hours, Hershberger was fighting for her life as doctors rushed to save her unborn daughter. A freak blood clot caused a heart attack, forcing doctors to both operate on Hershberger’s heart and deliver her baby by Caesarian section.

Both mother and baby survived, and are thriving three months later. The bliss of their new family has washed away the overwhelming fear that gripped them for about five hours in February.

“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to my wife, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to our baby,” said Adrian Hershberger, Allie’s husband.

In their Greenwood apartment, Allie Hershberger, 26, held daughter, Samantha, close to her chest. The 3-month-old has started noticing the world around her. She loves a picture of zebras on their apartment wall, and now can push herself around the floor.

As much as possible, Allie Hershberger keeps her baby in her arms. Considering she had to wait two days after birth until she could even touch her, it seems like the right thing.

“It’s made me more patient than I would have been. I’m certainly not taking anything for granted, even when she’s crying,” she said.

Early in the morning of Feb. 6, pain blindsided Allie Hershberger. Back pain was normal for her as she reached the latter stages of her pregnancy.

Allie Hershberger did whatever she could to alleviate the pain. She took a hot shower, thinking it was maybe bad muscle cramps. She made Adrian Hershberger, 32, rub her back to loosen it up.

Nothing worked.

“It finally brought me to tears, and I knew we had to call somebody. At that point, pain was shooting down my arm,” Allie Hershberger said.

The family called their doctor, Dr. Kenny Stall, who told them to come to Community Hospital South’s emergency room. When they arrived, the atmosphere was still relaxed.

Doctors ran blood tests on her and checked to make sure the baby was still doing well. Everything appeared to be normal. But when they did an electrocardiogram test, everything changed.

“When I saw the look on the nurse’s face, that’s when I started to get really worried,” Adrian Hershberger said. “All of the sudden, there were 15 people in the room.”

Allie Hershberger’s obstetrician, Dr. Soheila Boyer, arrived and started working with Dr. Bradley Weinberg, an interventional cardiologist. They explained she would need to have a catheter snaked to her heart to clear a blockage.

At the same time, they would have to do a Caesarian section.

“Dr. Boyer also made it clear — we were having a baby today,” Allie Hershberger said.

The gravity of the situation had skyrocketed. Hospital staff sprinted Allie Hershberger from the examination room to the elevator, where she would be taken to the catheter lab.

A team of 25 nurses, cardiologists and surgeons worked together to help her. They put a catheter in her heart, which confirmed she’d had a heart attack. Quickly administering anesthesia, doctors prepared her for surgery.

The hospital’s cardiac catheterization lab would be turned into a delivery room, a first for Community Hospital South.

During the operation, Adrian Hershberger was moved to an empty room near the catheter lab. A chaplain from the hospital came to talk with him. While sitting in the room, Adrian Hershberger could only speculate on the condition of his wife and baby daughter.

The situation still brings tears to his eyes.

“It was emotional. It was a scary situation. I wasn’t sure what was going on. We weren’t expecting to go to the hospital, then to have a baby that day,” he said.

In the middle of the conversation with the chaplain, a lullaby started playing over the hospital loudspeaker, a sign a baby had been born.

Moments later, Adrian Hershberger found out his daughter, Samantha, had been taken to the neonatal intensive care unit. He was able to see his new baby for the first time.

Samantha was a healthy 6 pounds, 8 ounces and 21 inches long. Though her lungs were underdeveloped, which would require her to stay in the hospital, she was doing well.

But Allie Hershberger’s situation was more unclear. After Samantha was born, doctors made sure her condition was stabilized before starting catheterization.

The hope was to place a pair of stents in the heart. A blood clot had formed and moved to her heart, blocking one of the lower arteries.

Allie Hershberger had never had any heart problems in the past. The catheter scope found none of her other arteries were blocked. The heart attack was random, not symptomatic of a larger problem.

She would survive, and though monitoring would be needed, she should recover, Weinberg said.

When she woke up from her operations, Allie Hershberger’s first thought was, “Where is my baby?” While she recovered in intensive care, she was unable to go see Samantha.

So Adrian Hershberger took video and pictures, shuttling between the neonatal department and intensive care throughout the day.

After two days, mother and daughter were united for the first time.

“You have this idea of what birth is going to be like, and what will happen when you get to see your baby for the first time,” she said. “You have that image, and then you have to be separated immediately.”

Allie Hershberger was able to leave the hospital after five days, and after two weeks, Samantha was able to come home for the first time.

The family credits the hospital staff for being able to adjust to an unusual situation to ensure mother and baby were safe.

“We couldn’t have asked for more from Community. They brought a good majority of their staff down to help with our baby’s birth,” Adrian Hershberger said.

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