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This Story Of How A Woman Almost Died While Giving Birth Is Sparking A Lot Of Conversation Online, So We Spoke To An Expert To See How Common It Is

"No one saw it coming...except me."

Kayleigh Summers is a 31-year-old happy, healthy mom to her and her husband's 2-year-old son, Callahan...but her initial journey into motherhood started out very scary.

Kayleigh posing for a photo in a front yard with her husband and son
Kayleigh Summers

Kayleigh recently went viral on TikTok after she told the story about how she almost died while giving birth to Callahan:

Kayleigh explained her story in detail to BuzzFeed, stating that during labor, she started feeling extremely ill. After stressing the issue to her nurses, she was told that what she was experiencing was normal. Kayleigh then went into cardiac arrest. "I was code blue and rushed to the operating room, where they delivered my son via emergency C-section while performing CPR on me," she said.

Kayleigh's son being placed on her chest while she's unconscious
Kayleigh Summers

"I was unconscious and without a pulse when my son was born. CPR was keeping us both alive until he was delivered via the emergency C-section," she added.

Thankfully, Callahan was born healthy, but, unfortunately, Kayleigh's health continued to decline. "I started bleeding out and a massive transfusion protocol had to be initiated, resulting in a total of 143 units of blood product transfused by the end of this ordeal. I also had to get a hysterectomy to combat the blood loss. Because of the AFE and blood loss, my heart and lungs weren’t performing at their full capacity, so doctors put me on ECMO, a machine to keep me oxygenated. My heart became weaker, so they implanted the Impella, a temporary heart pump that would allow my heart to rest and recover," she concluded.

An unconscious Kayleigh surrounded by tubes while her son is on her chest
Kayleigh Summers

After Callahan's birth, Kayleigh had to stay on oxygen and a ventilator for several days — and she has no memory of the entire week her son was born.

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"I don't remember the first time I held him, but I'm grateful we have a beautiful video of it. The first memory I have was a few days after meeting him for the first time, and I remember thinking how beautiful (and big!) he was. It's difficult to comprehend that the baby you are holding is yours, when you didn't see his birth or meet him for the first week of his life."

What Kayleigh suffered through is called Amniotic Fluid Embolism (AFE). To get more information about AFE, BuzzFeed spoke to Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, who is a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine, and she's the founder of MadameOvary.com.

Dr. Minkin smiling

"What happened to Kayleigh is probably the most catastrophic thing that can be seen in labor and delivery. AFE is when amniotic fluid escapes from the uterus into the veins and into the lungs. It indeed can cause sudden cardiac arrest and a condition called DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation). AFE can be a fatal entity, but — with resuscitation and proper medical care — some women can survive," Minkin explained.

"To explain AFE further, the cells from the amniotic fluid, including things like baby hair and skin, get directly into the mother's bloodstream and travel through the heart and lungs. These fetal tissues go into the blood vessels, and it causes this massive blood pressure shock reaction to these foreign tissues. The baby's tissue does not get stuck in the pulmonary vessels, it is more of an allergic shock reaction that causes the mother's heart and circulation to shut down. You end up with a massive blood clotting problem and the person goes into DIC, where their body starts eating up all the blood platelets and they start hemorrhaging. You can see DIC with other things, but AFE is certainly one of the most common ones. Over half of the woman who experience AFE can die — in fact, the maternal mortality rate can be as high as 80% — so Kayleigh is very lucky she survived."

So, how would a person know if they were experiencing AFE during childbirth? Minkin said the best way to describe it is a feeling of impending doom. "You can't breathe, you feel like you're going to die, something is massively wrong."

In addition, there's nothing a pregnant person can do to prevent AFE from happening during childbirth. "Anyone can get it; however, you are at a higher risk of getting AFE if you have health or cardiac disease/problems. There are other risk factors that can predispose you, but even somebody as healthy as Kayleigh can have it happen out of the blue," Minkin said.

"Some people have asked me, can I have a C-section to avoid and having to push and getting AFE, but it can happen during a cesarean section, too."

And if you're wondering why Kayleigh's uterus had to be removed, Minkin said that sometimes the only way to stop the bleeding is to have it removed. "When a person has AFE, the uterus tends to not contract after the placenta comes out and, in a normal delivery, the uterus is supposed to contract and shrink down. So, between having the uterus not contracting and the blood clotting mechanisms not clotting, the person will continue to bleed and sometimes the only way to stop the bleeding is to take the uterus out."

There are unfortunately a lot of potential birth complications, but fortunately, AFE is very rare. There are about 1 to 12 cases of amniotic fluid embolism for every 100,000 deliveries. "Childbirth can be a challenging situation, but our mission is to get a healthy mom and a healthy baby. One thing I will say is this is one reason why I think delivering in a hospital is a good idea, because had Kayleigh delivered at home, she would have died," added Minkin.

In conclusion, Kayleigh wants to emphasize that although this is a rare complication, you should always listen to your intuition and advocate for yourself in medical situations. "I originally planned to deliver at my local hospital, but when I found out they didn't have a NICU, I was concerned enough to switch hospitals if he needed extra support. That decision saved my life. I would have died at my local hospital, given the amount of blood product and intervention I required."

"I also want moms to know that it's OK if the day you gave birth wasn't the best day of your life. It doesn't make you a bad mom, it makes you human. If you have experienced a traumatic birth, please know that you are not alone and with proper treatment and support, you will begin to heal."

Special thanks to Dr. Minkin for her expertise on this topic and to Kayleigh for being vulnerable in sharing her story. You can follow Kayleigh on TikTok, Instagram, and her website.

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