Every minute counted as July, a Registered Nurse (RN), was rushed into the Heart Institute on a stretcher. Dozens of trained medical staff sprang into action to save both her life and the life of her unborn child. Within thirty minutes, the cardiothoracic, gynecology, neonatal, and anesthesia departments were all standing by, ready to provide the urgent care she needed.
A baby’s first cry is the last thing you would expect to hear at the Heart Institute. Yet, that was the case on Nov 1st, 2022. Baby John was delivered by emergency C-section, right before his mother July, a Registered Nurse, underwent urgent and complex heart surgery.
July was 37 weeks pregnant with her fourth child and felt intense pain for almost a week. She had visited her gynecologist and local hospital but received no clear explanation for her suffering. First, she dealt with abdominal pain. Then a few days later, pain radiated to her head, forehead, chin, jaw, and shoulders.
It wasn’t until she developed a high fever and was rerouted to the Emergency Department that tests showed she had an abnormal valve and a Type A aortic dissection. Otherwise known as the ‘widow maker’. Once her diagnosis was discovered by emergency medical staff, it was clear that this was a life-and-death situation for both mother and child.
The adjoining hospital’s medical team rushed over the necessary equipment and supplies to perform the emergency high-stakes C-section in the thoracic theatre at the Heart Institute. The cardiac team shifted into the same surgical suite to perform the open-heart surgery.
Understanding the urgency and complexities of the surgery, July was grateful to have her cousin, a Heart Institute employee, to hold her hand. Heart surgeon Dr Boodwani, who performed her procedure, mentioned how calm July remained, knowing the dire nature of her situation. Her calmness and trust in the process helped the team stay calm, too.
‘Looking back at this awful time,” July adds, “I am so touched by how well I was cared for, especially by the nurses. The obstetrics nurses, the ICU nurses, and my incredible recovery nurses.”
July’s post-operative recovery was tough, healing from both from the C-section and the sternotomy which opened the chest wall for the heart surgery. Nurses tended to her every need, 24 hours a day, managing her extreme pain, even helping her pump her breast milk every few hours. Obstetrics nurses came from the Birthing Unit to regularly check on her and the baby. Mother and Baby John spent seven days in the Intensive Care Unit. Her nursing team provided exceptional nursing care. As a Registered Nurse turned patient, July was deeply grateful.
Her hair was very matted from her medical ordeal, so nurses helped her to wash her hair. July remembers, “My hair had become so messy after the surgery. I could not comb it because it was just too tangled. I thought the only option was to cut it all off. But
one of my assigned nurses washed and combed my hair, making me feel like myself again.”
As a nurse, July had the knowledge and training to understand the seriousness of her symptoms, and she knew when to seek medical attention. July’s experience also highlights the critical role that nurses, and healthcare professionals play in our lives, especially during times of crisis.
Despite their significant job, nurses often go unrecognized and underappreciated. They are the backbone of our healthcare system. Nurses work tirelessly to provide quality care, often going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure their patients receive the best possible treatment.
We celebrate our nurses here at the Heart Institute, not only this week but every week. To ensure nurses thrive we have established the first of its kind Endowed Chair in Cardiac nursing.
Donations to the chair will help enhance nursing training, provide access to national and international educational opportunities, and fund nursing-specific research that advances excellence in patient care.
With your help, we will continue to support nurses, so they thrive, ensuring the best possible patient care for you and your family.
Almost six months have passed since July’s surgeries and stay at the Heart Institute. She is still an outpatient and comes to visit for regular check-ups. Her recovery is going well, and she is stronger each day. “Every day, I am grateful for my life. I am a wife and a mom to four beautiful boys. I could not wish for anything else.”
July and Baby John’s survival are thanks to the dedication and expertise of the doctors, nurses, and staff at the Heart Institute. Her story reminds us of life’s fragility and the value of every moment we have with our loved ones. July also hopes that one day she will be the one to hold a patient’s hand as a nurse working here at the Heart Institute.