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Happy Mother's Day: Mother survives heart attack while giving birth

Brittany Forrest and her baby Jaxon Gallagher Image copyright Brittany Forrest

When Brittany Forrest went into cardiac arrest at seven-months pregnant, doctors had no choice but to perform an emergency C-section and deliver her baby. They both nearly died, but quick thinking helped turn a tragedy into a "miracle".

The first time Ms Forrest saw her son Jaxon Gallagher he was 12 days old. Born two months premature, he spent the first couple of weeks of his life in the neonatal ward at St Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, while his 26-year-old mother recovered from a near-fatal heart attack.

"I was still trying to process what had happened to me, and then I was going to see a baby that I didn't even know," she told the BBC.

She doesn't remember giving birth, or much of what happened in the week she spent in St Paul's leading up to her cardiac arrest.

She was flown to the hospital, which has a cardiac intensive care unit, after she passed out in the emergency room in her hometown of Courtenay, some 186km (115 miles) away on 2 April.

Image copyright Brittany Forrest

In the days leading up to her collapse in Courtenay, she had felt "gross", she says: pain in her shoulder, shortness of breath and exhaustion. But until she passed out, all of her symptoms were dismissed as part of her pregnancy.

Once Ms Forrest was admitted to St Paul's, cardiologist Dr Mustafa Toma diagnosed her with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that can be caused by an allergic reaction, infection or autoimmune disorder, not pregnancy.

But now she was very weak, and needed heavy medication to keep her heart pumping and supplying blood to the placenta.

Her obstetrician, Dr Elisabet Joa, wanted to avoid inducing labour, because she wasn't sure the mother would make it.

Image copyright Brittany Forrest
Image caption Brittany Forrest just TK after having a heart attack while giving birth to her son Jaxon Gallagher

When Dr Joa heard the warning "code blue" - which means a patient needs resuscitation - on April 12, she knew it had to be Ms Forrest and she rushed to the intensive care unit. Ms Forrest had gone into cardiac arrest and her heart had stopped beating.

Within minutes, Dr Joa knew what she had to do. Without time to move her to the operating room, she performed an emergency C-section while Dr Toma and a team of other doctors and nurses resuscitated her, performing CPR and putting her on a ECMO bypass machine to keep her heart pumping.

"We were hoping for the best but planning for the worst," Dr Joa says.

All in all, Dr Toma estimates it took about two dozen people to keep the mother and baby alive that day.

While both Dr Joa and Dr Toma have been in their share of life-or-death situations, this one has left an impression.

Dr Joa says it's "just a miracle" both the baby and mother survived with little permanent damage.

"It brings tears to all of our eyes when you think what dire straits we were in and how bad it could have been," Dr Toma says.

Image copyright Brittany Forrest

Ms Forrest is now out of the hospital, but staying nearby while her baby Jaxon is still recovering.

Soon, Ms Forrest hopes he'll be able to be transferred to a hospital closer to home, where her fiance and two other sons, four and nine, wait for her.

"I'm still in shock. I think about it every day," she says.

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