37 Seconds - Stephanie's Story - LifeSource

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During the birth of her son Jacob, Stephanie Arnold suffered an amniotic fluid embolism (AFE). It’s a rare but serious complication that occurs when amniotic cells get into a mother’s bloodstream and cause anaphylactic shock. Fortunately, Jacob was delivered without any issues.

But seconds later, Stephanie died—for 37 seconds.

As a result of the AFE, Stephanie had a heart attack, acute kidney failure, collapsed lungs and an emergency hysterectomy. She was put into a medically induced coma, and needed a total of 60 units of blood, about three times her body’s blood supply, to survive. Because Stephanie’s blood type is O negative, she’s a universal donor of red blood cells. However, those with type O negative blood can only be transfused with their same blood type; no other blood types are a medical match.

At this point, you’re probably wondering how the medical team at Northwestern Memorial Hospital had enough O negative blood to stabilize her and pull her through such an acute medical crisis, one that even included flat-lining for 37 seconds.

Stephanie lived because of the generosity of blood donors and a doctor who listened.

When Stephanie was 20 weeks pregnant, she was diagnosed with placenta previa, a condition in which the placenta grows on top of the cervix. This condition is not that uncommon (1 in 200 pregnancies), but doctors recommend that women who suffer from it take it easy, because the bleeding it causes can be dangerous to both the mother and her baby. It’s scary, but it’s manageable.

Despite this reassurance, Stephanie started having detailed visions that she would hemorrhage and die on the operating table after giving birth to her son. “The visions were scary. They felt real,” said Stephanie. “I was absolutely convinced they were going to come true.”

Stephanie sought help from anyone who would listen. “Doctors brushed my premonitions off as normal pregnancy jitters, friends avoided the discussion, and my husband, Jonathan, thought I was going off the deep end,” she said.

At 33 weeks pregnant, she had a consultation with an anesthesiologist who took her premonitions seriously. The anesthesiologist made a note in her chart to stock the operating room with extra blood, monitors and a crash cart, in the off chance she would need them. “Ultimately, this was what saved my life,” said Stephanie. Having this blood available to doctors was made possible by the generosity of blood donors. Because people like you took time out of their busy schedules to donate blood, Stephanie’s children still have their mom.

Stephanie no longer believes in coincidence.  “If you sense it, say it,” she says. “It could save your life; it saved mine.”

Learn more about donating blood to save lives.

You can find out more about Stephanie Arnold’s incredible story of survival and her book, 37 Seconds, on her website, and you can learn more about amniotic fluid embolisms at afesupport.org.

Find a community donor center near you, visit our scheduling page or call 877.543.3768 to schedule your donation appointment. Click here to learn more about signing up for the bone marrow registry.

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