A new parent’s nightmare
September 21, 2010
By Laura Geggel
Mother remains in the hospital while father cares for the baby
By the time Sage Bower was born in the early hours of Aug. 24, her mother, Sarah Bower, was already in a coma after experiencing a hemorrhagic stroke.
“It was the scariest thing I had ever been through,” said Sarah’s husband, Nate Bower. “I thought I was losing her right there. I was yelling at her to try to get her to talk. Words can’t explain it.”
Sarah and Nate Bower were ecstatic about being new parents. The two had met through friends at church and married in 2001, living in Issaquah before they moved to Maple Valley and then next to May Valley.
Nate worked in construction, but recently lost his job because of the Great Recession. Sarah worked as a hairstylist at Issaquah’s Salon Jade, which she owned with her mother for four years, participating in ArtWalk and Salmon Days, until she sold it in June.
Sage was due Aug. 19, and the family’s physician was planning to induce labor. But Sage was born an entirely different way. Sarah, 34, awoke at 3 a.m. Aug. 24, complaining of stomach pains and a pounding headache.
Nate drove her to the emergency room at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle and watched as they plugged his wife into an IV dripping with painkillers. Her blood pressure had skyrocketed. He held her hand and held a rag over her throbbing head.
Then, her left side went limp.
Doctors realized she had just had a stroke. Doctors delivered Sage via C-section so that Sarah’s blood pressure would drop.
Neurosurgeon Gregory Foltz happened to be on site and he managed her case.
Shortly after her stroke, Sarah’s physicians learned she had HELLP — hemolysis, elevated liver enzyme levels and a low platelet count. HELLP is rare, and more likely to affect white, pregnant women older than 25. HELLP patients often feel tired and experience pain in the upper part of their abdomen, as well as headaches or nausea.
Because many healthy pregnant women experience such symptoms, HELLP is hard to catch, but women with high blood pressure can ask their doctors to test them, according to FamilyDoctor.org.
The high blood pressure caused by HELLP likely led to her stroke, her husband said.
After the delivery, Sage was safe, but Sarah was sedated and not responding with normal reflexes. Doctors rushed her to a CAT scan. Sarah’s medical diagnosis was going from bad to worse; the CAT scan showed she had bleeding in her brain. When blood enters the brain, it causes swelling.
As a Jehovah’s Witnesses, Sarah would not accept a blood transfusion. Foltz inserted a ventricular drain into her brain to help drain the blood from the hemorrhage, but Sarah’s blood started clotting.
Nate had called some close family friends, and Foltz explained Sarah’s options to them. Foltz said could use a drug, called tissue plasminogen activator, that would help unclot the blood in her brain, but the FDA had not yet approved the drug for the procedure.
With Nate’s permission, Foltz used the drug. It worked perfectly.
“Really, within a few minutes of inserting this tube, her brain was under tremendous pressure and the drain stopped working,” Foltz said. “She would have died had we not been able to get the tube working.”
“All of the stars were aligned for Sarah,” he said.
“The nurse is like, ‘I can’t believe it’s working. It’s a miracle,’” Nate said. “I started crying a little bit. As Christians, we rely on God a lot. It was interesting seeing this all happening.”
Healthcare workers transported Sarah to Swedish’s Neuroscience Institute on Cherry Hill. Sarah remained in a coma for two weeks, staying at the hospital’s ICU instead of with her baby daughter.
Sarah’s parents and sisters have been helping Nate care for Sage, watching her during the day so he can be with Sarah and staying with Sarah at night so he can be with Sage.
“We talked a long time ago and decided that if something happened, I would take care of the baby,” Nate said.
During the second week of September, Nate took Sage with him to see Sarah. He laid his daughter on his wife’s chest and put Sarah’s hand on her child.
Sage had been slightly fussy before the visit, but once she heard her mother’s heartbeat, she fell fast asleep on Sarah.
“All of the nurses were crying,” Nate said. “She knows who mommy is.”
Sage knows who her daddy is, too. The father dotes on his sleeping daughter, his “little hobby for the next 18 years,” he said.
Family and friends from Issaquah’s Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses have stepped forward, cooking Nate’s family dinner and offering them support. Tammy Siegert and Jill Young, who both know the family through church, spend time with Sarah.
“She’s kind of responding to talking, but not a whole lot and with her hands,” Siegert said. “She can wave. She gets real tired real easy, so we just talk to her when she’s awake.”
Windermere real estate agent David Eastern is selling the family’s house for free so they can move back to Issaquah.
Sarah is still recovering from her stroke, but she has started physical therapy sessions.
“She’s had the greatest recovery,” Foltz said. “It’s just incredibly gratifying to see someone who has so much to live for do so well. I fully expect she will be able to return to a fully functional life in raising her new baby.”
Her husband said he and Sage would be there for her.
“This might be long term for Sarah,” he said, but “she’s definitely on the road to recovery.”
Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.