As a nurse in the emergency department (ED) at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center and Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach, Erika Santos is prepared for anything. Never once did she think she would be the one rolled into the ED on a gurney as a patient.

Erika and Joaquin

Erika’s due date was a few short weeks away. After struggling with infertility for years, Erika and Eric, her husband whom she met at work, used in vitro fertilization to conceive. They were over the moon and couldn’t wait to meet their son, Joaquin.  

Erika had an ideal pregnancy with no morning sickness and hardly any swelling. At 34-weeks pregnant, she had a regular check-up with her obstetrics (OB) physician and everything appeared to be normal. Then two days later, on Wednesday, September 27, 2017, Erika’s life was turned upside down.

“I last remembered waking up from a nap feeling nauseated and going to the bathroom,” said Erika. “I stood at my bathroom sink, dry heaving, next I was waking up in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Long Beach Medical Center not knowing what had happened.”

Erika had a sudden onset of eclamptic seizures—this can occur during pregnancy and is related to high blood pressure. She seized in the bathroom, hitting her head on the pedestal sink. Though she does not remember how, Erika moved out of the bathroom and into bed. Eric came home to check on Erika and found her sleeping in bed. Suddenly, she began actively seizing, and Eric immediately called 911. Erika was transported to the Trauma Center.

Long Beach Medical Center shares a campus with Miller Children's & Women's, and it is an adult and pediatric level II Trauma Center, verified by the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma. The Trauma Center care team provides care coordination from the moment of entry in the ED until discharge from the hospital. There are many crucial support services and essential parts of the trauma care team, which allows for mom and baby to receive high-level specialty care all under one roof.

Erika and Joaquin

Once in the ED, the entire care team went into action to hastily stabilize Erika and deliver her son.

“It is rare for someone like her, who was seizing for so long, to survive. Eclamptic seizures can be fatal for mom and baby,” said Kenneth Spielvogel, M.D., obstetrics/gynecology, Miller Children’s & Women’s. “We had expert anesthetists, trauma surgeons and a trauma care team that came together to save both their lives.”

Erika had high blood pressure and swelling in her brain. Although the care team had stabilized Erika, Joaquin had become bradycardic, a medical term for when the heart rate is too slow. The care team worked fast to perform an emergency cesarean delivery and Joaquin was surgically removed from Erika’s uterus. Joaquin was born twenty-seven minutes after arriving in the ED.

Joaquin stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Miller Children’s & Women’s for three weeks to build his strength. Meanwhile, Erika awoke in the ICU at Long Beach Medical Center with no memory of what had happened. The swelling in her brain distorted her memory and vision. During her extended stay in the ICU, Erika worked with a speech and physical therapist. She was also able to spend precious time with her son because both of their hospitals are under one roof. Erika required months of recovery to completely resolve the hypertension and cope with the emotional trauma of her experience.

“To say that we’re grateful for all the life-saving care that we received is an understatement. If the paramedics had taken me to any other place, Joaquin and I wouldn’t be here today,” said Erika. “None of the other hospitals have the resources to deal with our unique case. Eric and I have always felt a sense of pride working at MemorialCare, and after our traumatic birth story, we’re even more proud.”

Childbirth is a part of a complex life journey, that doesn’t always follow a singular path. Erika Santos’ birth to her son, Joaquin, is no exception. Fortunately, with help from an experienced care team at Miller Children’s & Women’s, the Santos’ traumatic journey led to a beautiful miracle.

Erika, Firemen & Joaquin

Erika and hospital staff