A happy ending for Tory and Rhett
It was a difficult pregnancy right from the start, almost resulting in tragedy, but looking at the smiles of mother and son, the story has a happy ending.
For Tory Struyf this pregnancy was different from her first two. She experienced spotting for the first three months, and ultrasound monitoring showed she had complete placenta previa. It also showed the baby was facing the wrong direction, sitting transverse, and couldn’t be turned.
“It wasn’t the happy celebratory pregnancy my husband and I previously had because we were worried the whole time. We were hesitant to tell anyone,” says Tory.
With previa the placenta becomes implanted in an unusual spot, sometimes partially covering or, as in Tory’s case, completely covering the cervix and thus blocking the baby’s path to birth.
“Thanks to our health-care system, the majority of women have a second trimester ultrasound and part of the exam is establishing the location of the placenta. Once the placenta has implanted, it doesn’t move,” says Dr. Debbie Penava, LHSC Physician, Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Tory, a Lambton Shores resident, was scheduled for a C-section at 39 weeks in Sarnia.
“I was worried for the baby’s safety due to potential complications, but I was never concerned for my own,” says Tory. “The last thing I remember is the anaesthetist’s face in Sarnia and then waking up at London Health Sciences Centre five days later.”
On Feb. 1, 2017 Tory gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Rhett. For Tory however, the complications from her pregnancy and delivery became life threatening. Those were harrowing days for Tory’s husband and family.
After her C-section, Tory began bleeding uncontrollably. The team performed an emergency hysterectomy in an attempt to stop the bleeding, but she continued to lose large amounts of blood. Further surgeries and blood transfusions did little to slow the loss of blood.
As a result of the excessive bleeding, Tory developed a rare condition called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC), a disorder which results in significant loss of blood, platelets, and factors that assist with clotting.
The condition can be fatal and Tory was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Sarnia, put on life support and into an induced coma.
Tory was moved to LHSC as the Sarnia hospital had exhausted its blood supplies and her care team there believed she needed the more advanced surgical care offered at LHSC.
To prepare her for transfer, a third surgery was conducted to put in packs to slow the bleeding.
“There was little choice. I wouldn’t live if they couldn’t stop the internal bleeding. On the other hand, I was given less than a five per cent change of making it through the surgery. It was very difficult for my husband as the surgery was the only chance I had to live.”
Tory’s doctor attributed her healthy lifestyle - she’s not a drinker or smoker, and has a healthy heart and lungs - to giving her the best chance of surviving the surgery.
“It’s not something you think about so much when you’re young, that you would be in that position,” says Tory.
“When I arrived at Victoria Hospital I was apparently met by Dr. Barry MacMillan, Chief of Gynaecology, and the whole care team. The EMS attendants told me afterwards that in all the years they’ve been doing their work they have never seen so many doctors meet their ambulance,” says Tory.
She was immediately moved to the ICU, her organs carefully monitored and her body given a rest before another surgery.
Three days later, Tory had a final surgery to remove the packs that had been inserted in Sarnia to stem the hemorrhaging. With the risk of bleeding finally mitigated after receiving more than 50 units of blood and blood products, Tory was taken off life support.
“I woke up the next day in the darkened ICU room and didn’t quite understand where I was because I had gone under anaesthetic in a bright operating room in Sarnia,” says Tory.
The next time she woke up her mother was leaning down close to her face and telling her that she had been in a coma for five days.
After Tory had been moved from the ICU, she received physiotherapy and her first task was to dangle her feet over the edge of the bed.
“I didn’t want to do it, I had no muscle memory,” says Tory. “The physiotherapists were fantastic, very gentle but firm. They told me I needed to do this to get mobile and to go home.”
She had her obstetrics team, occupational therapist, and speech language therapist check in every day to see if she was healing as she should.
“Everyone was so considerate. The residents were fantastic, the nurses were great. The first shower I had was daunting. I was 29, I had three kids, and someone else needed to shower me. That was difficult for me, but the nurses and the personal support workers were there to support me.”
On Feb. 10, Tory finally met her 10-day-old newborn son, a day she will never forget.
“I was so intimidated. I was scared, how was I going to be a good mom during the recovery period? Yet Rhett knew who I was. He recognized my voice, he calmed down as soon as I held him. They told me that in the hospital they had put us skin to skin and despite how ill I was, my blood pressure recovered,” says Tory. “He just knew I was coming home and he waited.”
Once home, Tory first used a walker and slowly worked up to walking unassisted. At four weeks she could do stairs by herself, after six weeks she could drive.
Tory continues with follow up care at LHSC and is so thankful to the team that saved her life and helped her heal. “No one gave up on me. I’m pretty lucky.”