It was early Monday, January 9, 2017 when Conyers and Lucy Poole arrived at Ascension St. Vincent’s Birmingham. After a perfectly normal first pregnancy, Lucy was scheduled to be induced. Later Conyers would remember snow on the ground from Friday’s storm, and realize that if little Max Poole had come a few days earlier, many of the professionals needed to save his wife and son’s lives might not have been able to get there.
But that morning there was no sense of foreboding. All seemed well.
“We had great nurses taking care of her,” remembers Conyers. “But when Lucy got her epidural, her blood pressure dropped. That’s not that unusual, so they began to try to get it back up. But when the baby’s blood pressure dropped, they called for an emergency C-section.”
Lucy remembers being wheeled into the operating room. Moments later, she remembers having her picture taken with newborn Max. Then she remembers nothing. Her heart stopped beating.
Lucy’s cardiac arrest was due to a rare, unpredictable, unpreventable, and often-fatal pregnancy complication called amniotic fluid embolism (AFE). AFE is an allergic-like reaction to amniotic fluid entering the maternal bloodstream. Its deadly two-phase response starts with rapid respiratory failure and cardiac arrest. If an AFE mother can be revived, she immediately enters the second stage—disseminated intervascular coagulation (DIC), when abnormal clots use up the blood’s normal clotting factors. Massive bleeding follows.
Conyers explains how the hospital responded with everything they had to save his wife’s life.
“Every single doctor we needed was there,” he says. “Lucy’s OB quickly got a colleague on the phone, to confirm the rare diagnosis. A pulmonologist came running when he heard the overhead page.”
For hours an anesthesiology team labored to replace Lucy’s blood products, providing the only therapy for DIC. She eventually received between 60 and 70 units, the most ever administered to an Ascension St. Vincent’s Birmingham patient.
Meanwhile, back in NICU, the team that had responded to Max’s emergency delivery identified serious concerns, but as Conyers says, “They were on top of it. Max was placed on a cooling blanket for 72 hours to minimize any risk of neurological swelling. The neonatologists and NICU nurses were fantastic and treated him like their own child. He has a clean bill of health today, thanks to their tremendous efforts.”
Lucy eventually entered Surgical ICU, her survival uncertain. As family and friends prayed, Conyers noted how Ascension St. Vincent’s associates — from medical to housekeeping teams — responded.
“Everyone I encountered was aware of our situation. They could not have been more compassionate and supportive and prayerful.”
Quite miraculously, Lucy not only eventually gained consciousness, but suffered no permanent neurological damage. Within 10 days she and Max left the hospital. Now these parents thoroughly enjoy their very happy, active toddler.
However, the Pooles will never forget their Ascension St. Vincent’s experience, and they are now determined to more actively support the Foundation’s efforts.
“I want donors to know that God is working in this community and using Ascension St. Vincent’s and the caregivers here to do that,” Conyers says. “The mission of this place is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”
Now a Foundation Junior Board member, Lucy hopes to be an Ascension St. Vincent’s advocate.
“We credit the doctors for the way they made very wise, sound decisions in the middle of chaos, and how they made them quickly but carefully, working together as a team,” she says. “We credit the nurses — I feel close to those nurses in a way I can’t explain, because they were so vested in taking care of me. And although I couldn’t really think about Max at the time, the nurses took care of him when I couldn’t. The way Conyers and our families talk about them, I know he was in the best hands.
“I want donors to know what their dollars have done for others,” Lucy says, choking back tears. “I want them to know that God saved Max’s life through Ascension St. Vincent’s. I want them to know that He saved my life through Ascension St. Vincent’s.”