When Minutes Matter

Amanda and Harper

A Personal Testimonial of Amanda Cameron

Amanda Cameron, 31, knew where she wanted to deliver her baby. She chose the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston, because she knew that if her baby needed help, she would have access to the most comprehensive services available for newborns.

What Amanda didn’t know is that that choice would ultimately save her own life.

“I would have been dead if I had been anywhere else,” she recalled. “I will be forever grateful for all the physicians that saved my life.”

To start at the beginning of her story, Amanda met her OB/Gynecologist early in her pregnancy at a visit to the Emergency Room (ER). Experiencing some unusual pelvic pain, there was concern that she might be experiencing an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is where the fertilized egg grows outside of the uterus.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case and instead she had a ruptured cyst, but she did meet Dr. Angela Dempsey, a board-certified OB/Gynecologist at MUSC in the ER and decided she wanted her to deliver her baby. She stayed under her care, which seemed relatively routine following the ER visit.

Around 33 weeks of her pregnancy she developed mild preeclampsia, a condition that impacts about five percent of pregnancies, which can lead to high blood pressure and organ failure. Not taking any chances, Amanda and her doctor decided that they would induce labor when she was 37 weeks into her pregnancy.

So on Sunday, July 15, Amanda and her partner, Anthony, went to MUSC to deliver their child. Dr. Alexandra Rowin, was the board-certified OB/Gynecologist on call, who was caring for Amanda.
Labor was very slow, and she didn’t feel like she was making much progress. Her cervix had only dilated two cm. Suddenly, she was having a hard time breathing. Anthony quickly pushed the call button looking for help.

What followed was an immediate response from the Medical Emergency Team. Dr. Dempsey entered the room as the team was evaluating Amanda’s situation and determining the best course of action.

“It was all hands on deck,” said Dr. Dempsey. Once Amanda was stabilized, Drs. Dempsey and Rowin performed a C-section. The delivery was uncomplicated, and they gave birth to 6 pound 9 ounce Harper. Dr. Dempsey estimated it only took 60 minutes from the initial breathing difficulty until Harper was born.

While Amanda’s memory is cloudy, she later would see pictures of herself holding Harper after she was born.

But Amanda’s own medical crisis was declining, and she was transferred to the ICU. Ultrasound and CT scans confirmed that she had suffered from two large pulmonary embolisms, one in each lung. Late that evening, the right side of her heart became stressed, and she was put on a ventilator. 

Nobody took “no” for an option.

 Amanda was in shock and dying in front of us,” said Dr. Thomas Todoran, co-leader of the MUSC Pulmonary Embolism Response Team (PERT). He is board-certified in internal medicine cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology. This team convened during the middle of the night to discuss Amanda’s treatment.

MUSC was a founding member of the PERT Consortium that operates in about 80 hospitals in the country and is the only South Carolina member. PERTs are activated when patients suffer acute pulmonary embolisms and include multidisciplinary participants. In Amanda’s case, her team included cardiology, interventional cardiology, pulmonology, hematology and maternal fetal medicine. These specialists, each with their own area of clinical expertise, work together to determine the best treatment for the patient.

While the team has core members, each case can trigger the need for additional specialists. This team approach is new and growing and unique to Charleston and South Carolina. So far, the team has been activated more than 200 times at MUSC since it was started three years ago. Its rapid response can save a patient’s life.

Amanda was placed on ECMO, a device that pumps and oxygenates her blood allowing her heart and lungs to rest. As she began to get better and while still on ECMO, a catheter was used to insert heparin into the blood clots and dissolve them. She was taken off ECMO.

“She was very fortunate,” said Dr. Todoran. Her access to a multidisciplinary team of specialists, who responded rapidly and worked as a team along with the availability of ECMO helped to save her life.

Amanda said, “I don’t remember everything but I know they saved my life.

“The nursing staff was absolutely amazing too because they pushed me, which is why I recovered as I have,” she continued.

“Nobody took “no” for an option. The doctors never gave up on me and continued to work tirelessly to find a way to keep me alive and get me better.

My family and the nurses helped to take care of Harper,” she said. “They knew I wanted to breast feed her, and the lactation consultant was extremely valuable in keeping my wishes top of mind. The nurses were pumping me every three hours. They took the colostrum to Harper and pumped me the entire time,” she said. “Unfortunately, my milk never came in, but at least I know I tried.”

Amanda finally went home two weeks after delivery. Harper had gone home on July 20.

She now is well on the road to recovery and will forever be grateful to the doctors and nurses who saved her life. She has now officially gone back to work fulltime.