A 34-year-old year old marathon runner, Elaine was in excellent shape and figured the shortness of breath was simply a side effect of being pregnant with twins. Her blood pressure had been unusually high for someone in her great physical condition, but overall everything else was fine, so she wasn’t overly concerned.
But to err on the side of caution, Elaine gave Labour and Delivery at Royal Inland Hospital a call. “My oldest daughter was eager to get fresh peaches from the Farmers’ Market, so I thought I could quickly swing by the hospital, get the approval that everything was okay, and then go about my day,” recalls Elaine. It would be weeks before Elaine once again returned home.
Elaine was assured that her babies were fine, but she was immediately sent from Labour and Delivery to the Emergency Department where she underwent a multitude of tests. “The doctors and nurses did such a remarkable job of keeping me calm – my biggest worry was that I needed to feed the parking meter!”
The cardiologist on call, Dr. Stephen Chow, determined that Elaine was in heart failure – she had only 20% heart function. She was not responding to typical treatment measures for her heart condition, and due to the delicate nature of also carrying twins she would need to be airlifted immediately to Vancouver.
In the meantime, Dr. Chow had been communicating with physicians in Vancouver. When she arrived, Elaine was greeted by a team of 12 medical professionals. “My husband, Brent, had been keeping me calm, but the seriousness of my condition sunk in for both of us when we were met by such a specialized team. They knew I needed to deliver the babies, but they didn’t know if I had the strength to survive doing so.” After steroid treatments, the next morning Elaine delivered 2 tiny twin boys at just 30 weeks gestation.
Because of being in heart failure and delivering via c-section, Elaine developed another serious complication – a blood clot in her lung. She wouldn’t be able to get a chance to snuggle her newborn twins until 24 hours after they were born. Her babies were doing well, but she was fighting for her life.
Elaine and her newborns would spend 5 weeks in Vancouver before they were finally able to be airlifted back to Kamloops. Coordinating the return to Kamloops wasn’t easy, as they needed the infant transport team and 2 beds to be available in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). “When we finally arrived at the NICU, we were greeted with the most loving group of nurses who had been anxiously awaiting our arrival.”
Elaine tried to spend as much time as possible with her babies, but she was still weak and in heart failure. “I cannot say enough good things about the staff in the NICU. The nurses would cuddle my babies when I couldn’t – I knew they were being loved and cared for in the best possible way. If you need to put your newborn babies in the care of someone else, these are the people you want!”
Elaine rested at home, where she was monitored through Royal Inland Hospital’s VIP Clinic (Vascular Improvement Clinic). Her heart function and other vitals could be monitored via a home health monitoring system – the results sent daily to the VIP clinic at RIH. If anything looked alarming, she would receive a call from a nurse immediately.
“Dr. Chow and the staff of the VIP clinic are phenomenal. They are all so communicative and knowledgeable. I was a very unexpected and complex patient, and Dr. Chow in particular was amazing at explaining my circumstances without causing me alarm. I always felt confident that I was in great hands.”
After a month at RIH, Elaine and Brent were able to take their babies home for the first time. Today the boys are thriving, and Abigail is a proud big sister. Life these days for Elaine is vastly different than it was just a year ago. But things are looking up for her. She recently had an echocardiogram – a test to check her heart function. It is up to 50% and is expected to continue increasing. She will continue to be monitored by the VIP clinic and Dr. Chow.
Elaine’s recent test was done on an echo ultrasound, the first of its kind in BC, bought by one of our donors.
Elaine continues to get lots of rest, and thankfully has help from her extended family in caring for her babies. She remains optimistic about her condition and looks forward to actually visiting the Farmer’s Market this summer. “My oldest daughter still thinks about those peaches!” Elaine says with humour, a trait that has served her well through this very challenging and unpredictable time in her life.