Karen Black

Karen Black 

“Your support saved me. You may not realize, but it does have an impact, if not on you, then on someone else. I wouldn’t be here if the hospital hadn’t had the right equipment and the right staff with the knowledge to use it. There wasn’t time to look in a book or research an option, they just had to do it, and I’m alive because of it. Words will never convey how thankful we are.”

~ Karen Black

On June 14, 2005, Karen and husband, David, went to Michael Garron Hospital so Karen could be induced. The couple looked forward to the birth of their second daughter. But by late afternoon, one of their happiest days became their worst.

Shortly after doctors broke Karen’s water, she was unable to breathe. She felt a crushing pain in her chest and back. Then she couldn’t talk, and suffering from severe oxygen deprivation, she went blind.

Karen was rushed to the operating room for an emergency C-section. Karen went into cardiac arrest and baby Sarah, pulled from her mother’s womb, was also not breathing.

A code pink, then a code blue was called over the PA system, sending chills down the backs of staff throughout the hospital. David, sitting on a bench, heard the codes and suspected the worst. Staff told him he would soon have to make “hard decisions about his wife and baby.”

More than 40 doctors and nurses descended on the operating room. Sarah was resuscitated and Karen underwent life saving surgery to stop the bleeding. She was put into a medically induced coma. Twelve hours later, she woke up to find how she and her daughter almost lost their lives. Karen had suffered from a rare amniotic fluid embolism, a condition so rare that most physicians would never see a case such as hers in their entire careers.

Yet Karen and Sarah survived the odds and left the hospital with no side effects. “I was told it’s an amazing thing. You were young and healthy enough. You survived. Congratulations and on you go,” says Karen, who was 42 years old at the time of Sarah’s birth.

Before her release, Karen heard about the amazing team that treated her and the team’s leader, Dr. Carmine Simone. The obstetrician on call that night was Dr. Maja Gans.

She could not forget about Dr. Simone. Two months after her discharge, she made an appointment to see the doctor. “I wanted to see his eyes,” she said. She says she remembers hearing his calming voice in the O.R. as he took control of the situation and managed the 40 people in the room. “I couldn’t see, but I could hear.”

Karen, David and Sarah met Dr. Simone in his office. “He took me to meet the ICU team. They didn’t recognize me because I had been so swollen and puffy. It was a wonderful experience to meet everyone,” she says.

Sarah celebrated her 11th birthday this year. Her older sister Megan is now 14. Although she was not at the hospital, Megan has not forgotten the day Sarah was born. “She understands more and asks questions. One day she will put it all together and we’ll show her all the (newspaper) clippings,” says Karen.

Even Sarah knows there is something different about the day she was born. “She knows her baby book doesn’t look the same as Megan’s. She has seen pictures of herself in an incubator with tubes in her nose and umbilicus, and Megan has told her she saw her in a bed with no clothes on and with tubes.”

Despite the trauma, the family has moved on. “Life gets busy pretty quickly,” Karen says, adding things would have been different had she not been able to function. “If I had had a stroke or brain damage, the (family) dynamics would have been different but we don’t have a (negative) daily reminder of what happened.”

The trauma was hard on David. “You can’t help it. Scenarios start going through your mind, when you are told you have to make some hard decisions about your wife and child. You don’t recover from that quickly.”

Staff had their own trauma, she says. They have told her that hearing code blue and code pink, they knew it was a mother and a baby, and that when it’s a mom and a baby, it hits everyone.

Karen can’t praise Michael Garron Hospital enough. “I always thought of MGH as a community hospital but they have the ability to cope with something as chaotic as what happened and they need to be proud. They’re not on University Avenue, they’re up on Coxwell, but have the same expertise and equipment to deal with situations like this and the community needs to know.” 

Contact Charlie Borg at cborg@tegh.on.ca or 416-469-6580 Ext. 6190 if you would like to share your grateful patient story.