Issaquah mother is on the mend after close call
July 19, 2011
By Laura Geggel
Sarah Bower doesn’t remember much of what happened Aug. 24.
All she remembers is the pain in her head and side.
Expecting and overdue, Sarah and her husband Nate Bower attributed the pain to her pregnancy. He drove her to the hospital, where a situation like a horror movie unfolded.
First, Sarah had a stroke. Doctors performed a Cesarean section, delivering her daughter Sage to safety.
Physicians diagnosed Sarah with HELLP — hemolysis, elevated liver enzyme levels and a low platelet count — a rare condition in pregnant women that can elevate blood pressure, the likely culprit of her stroke.
When Sarah didn’t respond to normal reflexes, doctors rushed her to a CAT scan. The scan revealed she had bleeding in her brain, causing it to swell. As a Jehovah’s Witness, Sarah would not accept a blood transfusion. Nate agreed to let doctors use a drug not yet approved by the FDA for the procedure on his wife.
The drug worked, stopping the bleeding.
“It was clearly a very dangerous situation,” Swedish neurosurgeon Gregory Foltz said. “She was definitely at risk of dying from the hemorrhage in the brain, not to mention the HELLP syndrome.”
He thanked the Swedish Medical Center team for its good work.
“I think the real lesson there is it takes a team of folks who are experts in what they do to help people when they have a major problem like this,” Foltz said.
Sarah spent the next 16 weeks in a coma, with her husband, newborn daughter and parents visiting her daily. One time, Nate brought in a fussy Sage to visit her mother in the ICU. The moment he laid Sage on Sarah’s chest, the infant fell fast asleep.
Since her discharge from Swedish Medical Center in Seattle on Oct. 12, Sarah has undergone all kinds of physical and occupational therapy, dealt with severe short-term memory loss and adjusted to caring for her daughter.
“I couldn’t talk for awhile,” Sarah said in an interview earlier this month. “It’s been a really hard time. I just started feeling more like myself.”
The family lives near the heart of downtown Issaquah, a good location for Sarah, who can’t drive yet because of her brain injury. She enjoys walking to restaurants and stores.
After her hemorrhagic stroke, Sarah said she would tire easily and sometimes feel confused. To help improve her short-term memory, Nate and Sarah hung a white board in the kitchen where Sarah could write herself notes.
“It just gets better as time goes on,” Sarah said. “Before, I would do something and I wouldn’t remember it 10 or 15 minutes later.”
Patients with lingering brain injuries can continue to improve even two years after a an event like a brain hemorrhage.
“It’s not surprising that she should be getting better all of the time,” Foltz said.
Until June 2010, Sarah worked with her mother at Issaquah’s Salon Jade, a business she co-owned with her. As a working mother, Sarah had hoped to apply for another salon job, but those plans are on hold.
Recovering and parenting are full-time jobs. Now that her memory is improving, her therapist recently allowed Sarah to spend up to four hours alone with Sage.
Though her recovery has been slow, the family still counts its blessings.
“I had a really easy pregnancy,” Sarah said. “She is such a good baby. God knew what we could handle.”
Sage rarely cries at night, allowing her parents to get much-needed sleep.
“She’s been perfect,” Nate said. “She sleeps all the time. When she’s supposed to nap, she does.”
Their friends and family have supported them through thick and thin. Sarah’s parents, Peter and Jennifer Knypstra, have baby-sat Sage and helped Sarah.
“It’s remarkable about how she can take on things now as far as daily tasks, as far as getting up and taking care of the baby,” Peter said. “There are times when she needs some help and she still has memory loss. I think eventually she’ll be the same old Sarah.”
The grandparents moved from Oregon and are renting a house in Fall City so they can be closer to Sarah, Nate and Sage in Issaquah.
“I’ve probably done more baby-sitting and diaper changing in this short period of time then with my seven kids,” Peter joked.
Sarah and Nate attribute their successful marriage to their close friendship before her stroke. The two recently got some alone time. Their friends invited them on an all-expenses-paid trip to Palm Springs, Calif., for their 10th wedding anniversary.
“We just relaxed by the pool,” Nate said. “We got some sun.”
Meanwhile, Sage’s grandparents baby-sat Sage, now almost a year old and a super crawler who constantly explores the house.
“Just value all the time you have with people that you love,” Peter said. “Sarah was 30 years old and if it wasn’t for certain circumstances that happened when she was in the hospital, we could have lost her. We could have lost both of them.”
Laura Geggel 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.