I’ve worked in the lab profession for 37 years, but I’ll never forget July 22, 1995, a day my wife, Helen, and I had joyously anticipated. After having four boys, and 15 years after the birth of youngest who are twin boys, we finally were told that we were going to have a baby girl.
So there I was with camera in hand in the delivery room at Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center. Everything was going well with my wife’s C-section, and after I heard the flop of the baby when they placed her in the basin, I was eager to start snapping pictures. But, as fate would have it, that did not happen. Suddenly my wife started having respiratory distress and all her vital signs started to deteriorate. I vividly remember the panic in her doctor’s eyes as the medical team quickly shoved me out of the room. I stood outside totally helpless, watching all kinds of people rushing inside the room. Something really bad was happening to my wife and there was nothing I could do about it.
What was going on behind those closed doors was a double whammy of obstetrics complications: an amniotic fluid embolism, followed by disseminated intravascular coagulation, the formation of blood clots in the small blood vessels which can lead to multiple organ damage. Being a lab person, I knew her condition could quickly deteriorate and perhaps be fatal.
Facing this very bad situation, I just started praying like I have never prayed before. Out of that confusion and commotion came an act of kindness that I will never forget: the nursing supervisor, seeing the state that I was in, brought out our daughter so I could hold her in my arms and take my mind away from what was happening. My daughter was so beautiful and full of life compared to her Mom who was facing the opposite.
My wife received a total of 30 blood products, including packed red blood cells, fresh frozen plasma and platelets, that kept the bleeding in check. Thanks to the skill, knowledge, and perseverance of the doctors and nurses at Kaiser Fontana, she is one of a handful of survivors from that kind of ordeal.
I worked in the lab most of my life (my wife still does), but that experience made my appreciation of the work we do deeply personal. Batteries of tests were ordered for my wife and the Fontana lab did what they were supposed to do. Everything was just a beautiful coordination of different departments, working together to save my wife’s life. It was team work at its best.
Today, our daughter Melanie, our miracle baby, is 20 years old and is currently a junior at the University of California – Riverside. This would have not been possible if there were no people like the blood donors who were willing to give a portion of themselves as a gift to those who will never be able to repay them. As the poet Khalil Gibran said, “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” We are extremely grateful to all those people who gave my wife a chance for a second life.
This personal experience brought into focus for me why we laboratorians are there, and the role we play on the health care team. While some like to joke that we’re like mushrooms, stuck in the basement, my experience shows that we help save lives!