Miracle mom thankful to be alive to hold new baby
No one, neither patient nor doctor, wants to learn firsthand what “exsanguination” means.
But Dianna Cillessen is thankful she stuck around long enough to hear the definition.
It means that when surgeons cut into her skin on a September day when she was as good as dead, no blood came out. There was none left.
The Arvada mom lost her entire volume of blood minutes after she gave birth to bouncing baby Beau.
Then lost it three times over.
It took 41 units of blood products — nearly wiping out Exempla Lutheran hospital’s fridge — and fast-stitching doctors to bring Cillessen back to life.
“It was running out as fast as they were pumping it into me,” Cillessen says now, holding 2 1/2-month-old Beau and enjoying every gurgle of his morning bottle feeding. Five-year-old James crammed into the same easy chair to show his little brother an inch-high ninja fighter.
“If we give blood once a year, for the rest of our lives, we’ll be about even,” said husband Bret.
The Cillessens will joyfully celebrate Thanksgiving today with both sides of the family, even now learning more details about just how rare and dangerous Dianna’s condition was 11 weeks ago.
She suffered a postpartum “amniotic fluid embolism,” when fluid from the uterus leaks into the bloodstream and wreaks havoc. The condition overloads the blood’s clotting ability, and the body drains in a massive flooding away.
Doctors see it once in 80,000 births. Four out of five mothers who get it die from the catastrophic results. Cillessen’s anesthesiologist, Dr. Tom Syverud, had never seen it before, and doesn’t expect or wish for a repeat to apply his hard-won experience.
“She probably should have ended up on the other side of the equation, it was so severe,” Syverud said. The worst moment, he said, was looking up from the operating table to see a priest through the double-door windows, waiting to give last rites.
“When you’re doing everything you can and still losing the battle, that’s a feeling of helplessness I don’t wish to feel again,” Syverud said.
An emergency hysterectomy and frantic suturing of bleeding points — coupled with the reverse- flood of incoming units — finally stabilized Cillessen, 45.
Doctors expected her to wake up damaged. Loss of blood and oxygen in the brain leaves many women with the condition severely impaired.
Yet Cillessen regained consciousness a few hours later with her niece holding her hand, and immediately demanded to hold blissfully oblivious Beau. Twelve hours after losing all her blood, she was sitting up and eating dinner with stunned friends.
“I was just shocked,” said Cillessen’s obstetrician, Dr. Jennifer Freeman. “She said she felt a little sore, and I thought, ‘OK! I’ll take sore!’ ”
“They were worried I’d have postpartum depression,” Cillessen said with a grin. “And I’m thinking, ‘No, I’m pretty happy with life!’ ”
Cillessen and her husband said they think often of the 41 individual blood donors whose vital gifts rebuilt her body and soul that morning.
Doctors such as Freeman spend Thanksgiving on call at Lutheran and hospitals across the metro area.
“If it’s a slow day,” Freeman said, “I just might be able to run home and have dinner with my family.”