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(GILBERT, Ariz. – Feb. 17, 2020) – A Valley woman and her daughter have made remarkable recoveries after a dramatic race to save both their lives at Dignity Health Mercy Gilbert Medical
During an emergency C-section delivery while 33 weeks pregnant with her first child, Lupita Garcia experienced cardiac arrest. Baby Maia Lucia Higuera was born needing immediate resuscitation. Lupita’s heart condition worsened to the point of potentially needing a heart transplant, and Maia spent 19 days in the hospital’s special care nursery. Thankfully, a heart transplant was not needed, and after a long recovery period, Lupita, 30, and her husband Samuel Higuera, are ready to share their family’s incredible story.
When Lupita first arrived to Mercy Gilbert’s labor triage unit on June 27, 2018, she says she never imagined what happened next.
“I wasn’t feeling well so I called my OB and they said I should go to the hospital to get checked out just in case, and then everything went downhill,” Lupita recalls.
Once at the hospital, it soon became clear the symptoms that brought her to Mercy Gilbert—trouble sleeping, swelling and shortness of breath—were not simply due to pregnancy. Lupita’s resting heart rate was dangerously high in the 240s. She was in heart failure and began declining rapidly due to a heart condition called Peripartum Cardiomyopathy.
This rare heart condition can occur during the last months of pregnancy or up to five months after giving birth and is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can mimic those of third trimester pregnancy. Lupita had not experienced heart problems prior to this and did not fit the traditional risk factors for the condition. Hospital staff rushed to action, and Lupita was taken for an emergency C-section.
During the delivery, Lupita entered cardiac arrest and their daughter, Maia, was born without a pulse, not breathing. Maia was resuscitated and taken to the special care nursery while Lupita was transferred to the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) where she had two additional cardiac
“As our team worked valiantly to save her life, and as reality set in that, potentially, we weren’t going to be able to save her, it was heartbreaking,” says Meredith Hestand, RN, senior director of nursing for Mercy Gilbert’s Maternal Child Health Department. “It became clear that she needed a higher level of care, so we called on our experts at St. Joseph’s.”
The care team at Mercy Gilbert worked emergently with Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. As a team from St. Joseph’s prepared to travel to Mercy Gilbert to place Lupita on a type of lifesaving technology called an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine and assist with her transfer, the staff at Mercy Gilbert worked to provide mother and baby with a moment to bond.
“We knew that Lupita couldn’t respond to us and that she wasn’t ‘awake,’ but we wanted to give her a moment with her baby before she left for St. Joseph’s,” Hestand says.
The nursery team gathered all of the equipment they needed and brought Maia down to the ICU and placed her on Lupita’s chest.
“We were able to tell her, ‘Your baby’s right here. Here’s what you’re fighting for,’” Hestand adds.
After spending nearly two weeks at St. Joseph’s, Lupita was transferred to a third hospital in hopes that she would receive a heart transplant. The heart transplant never came. Thankfully Lupita’s heart had recovered so well on the ECMO machine at St. Joseph’s that she no longer needed a heart transplant.
“Lupita’s survival is remarkable,” says Hestand. “An entire team of medical professionals came together and were there for Lupita and Maia. We were all looking at Maia and thinking ‘we want to give this baby a lifetime with her mom.’”
Lupita and Maia spent nearly a month hospitalized, with Samuel splitting time between his wife and daughter. They were discharged on the same day in July 2018 and officially met for the first time at the family’s Mesa home.
“I was so nervous, worried she wouldn’t recognize me,” says Lupita. “But it was so great. She’s our little miracle baby.”
Nearly two years later, Lupita is finally weaning off most of the medications she once needed to keep her heart healthy and says she feels like she’s back to normal. She’s returned to work full-time and is thankful beyond words that she’s able to raise her child.
Maia is healthy and thriving. In her first year-and-a-half of life, the family has celebrated Maia’s baptism, her first steps and their first family vacation. Lupita says Maia is a great eater
who loves to sing and dance, especially to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus.”
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