Twins delivered by emergency C-section as CPR revives mom
By Carrie Peyton Dahlberg
Looking back on the terrifying morning when his wife almost died and their premature twins were cut from her body, Sam Fatu cannot stop the tears.
The massive pro wrestler, a man who once thumped around the ring as the “Samoan Savage,” sat in a neonatal intensive care unit this week, cuddling his tiny son Marley in one arm. He wiped his eyes for a moment, and could not speak.
Beside him, his wife, Theresa Fuavai-Fatu, cradled Marley’s 6-week-old twin sister, Myracle.
Miracle is the word that doctors have been using since the early November day when Fuavai-Fatu’s heart stopped and an obstetrician performed an emergency Caesarean section in the woman’s hospital bed, working so swiftly there was no time for sterilization or anesthesia.
It was a desperate measure, tried only because everyone in the room feared the mother was dying and the twins had minutes to live.
“I could not possibly imagine anyone losing a wife and children at the same time,” said Dr. Armine Sarchisian, the young obstetrician who made the decision to get the babies out before they died, too.
“All I could think is, ‘I have to save somebody.’ ”
Ultimately, doctors saved all three lives.
For three survivors to emerge relatively healthy from an episode like this is so rare that most obstetricians would never see it in a lifetime of practice, said Dr. Robert Resnik, a UC San Diego medical school professor emeritus who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.
“This obstetrician did just a miraculous job,” he said.
The cardiac surgeon who treated Fuavai-Fatu, Dr. Stephen Rossiter, said that in a nearly 40-year career he’s seen only a couple of other attempts to free babies from an apparently dying mother, someone hurt in a car crash or an accident.
Until now, “I’ve never seen a surviving mother or babies from it,” he said.
The Sacramento family’s harrowing experience began Nov. 10 when Theresa Fuavai-Fatu, 29 weeks pregnant, called her doctor, saying she felt sick and was having trouble breathing.
Sarchisian, the obstetrician on call that day, told her to come to Mercy General Hospital’s labor and delivery area, even though her babies weren’t due until late January. The doctor wanted to see Fuavai-Fatu because she was 40 and carrying twins, putting her at risk for several dangerous complications.
Once Fuavai-Fatu was settled in a labor room, her husband at her side and lab tests under way, things fell apart quickly.
“My blood pressure was sky high,” Fuavai-Fatu said. “The last thing I remember was grabbing the nurse’s hand and saying I can’t breathe.” She saw her husband start crying, his head bent over her.
Sam Fatu remembers racing out of the room after that, trying to summon more help, storming around the ward so frantically that at one point security was called.
Sarchisian was already in his wife’s room, summoned moments before by nurses who told her that her patient was gasping and turning blue. Just a minute or two later, Fuavai-Fatu fell backward, unconscious.
That’s when Sarchisian began thinking she might have to deliver the babies.
A nurse began cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Sarchisian told another to call a “code blue,” the hospital’s signal for cardiac arrest. Doctors poured in â<80>” an anesthesiologist, a cardiac surgeon and more, all attempting to revive Fuavai-Fatu.
But there was no pulse, no blood pressure and eventually no electrical signal from her heart, recalled Rossiter, the cardiac surgeon.
“They were doing everything they could for the mother,” Sarchisian said, but no pulse meant no blood supply and no oxygen for her babies.
“I was looking at the monitor to see if she had a heart rate,” the obstetrician said. “She didn’t. Then I looked at the anesthesiologist. I needed a confirmation of my decision. I asked him, should I go ahead? â<80>¦ We wouldn’t be cutting on a person who was actually alive â<80>¦ He said yes. After that, I looked up again at the monitor, because it was a big decision.”
Still no heart rate, so Sarchisian began.
In three minutes, both babies were out. Not immediately, but soon, Sarchisian heard them weakly crying.
And as the obstetrician was closing the incision, she heard something even more amazing: her colleagues saying the mother had a pulse again.
Theresa Fuavai-Fatu had opened her eyes and looked straight up at Rossiter.
“It was incredible. I couldn’t believe it,” said Sarchisian. “I thought it was a miracle.”
It was 11:35 a.m., just 10 minutes after the nurse first started CPR.
The ordeal wasn’t over yet for Sam Fatu, who was told after the twins were delivered that the next 24 hours would be critical for his wife.
“I kept looking at the clock. It took forever to go around,” Fatu said. “I was constantly weeping. I didn’t have no more tears. I ran out.”
Each day since, Myracle, Marley and Fuavai-Fatu have regained strength.
Doctors expect them all to do well, although they will need continued vigilance.
Fuavai-Fatu’s high blood pressure has left her with a thickened heart, which will require medication. Marley and Myracle will have to get regular checks for potential neurological damage, but so far are showing no signs of it.
The twins have grown well. Marley, born at noly 2 pounds, is now 3 pounds, 12 ounces. Myracle, born at just over 3 pounds, now weighs more than 5 pounds. They’re expected to go home in two or three more weeks.
Myracle will be the only girl in a family that includes her twin and three strapping older brothers, ages 12 to 18.
“I’ve got my little princess,” Fuavai-Fatu said, running a fingertip along her daughter’s cheek. Fatu knows the first thing he’s got planned for Myracle: “Spoil her.”
Both parents said they can never give enough thanks for all the nurses, doctors and other specialists who rushed into the hospital room as “code blue” was called, and saved three lives.
“My Christmas is my wife and my two babies,” Fatu said. “They are my walking Christmas tree.”
Sam Fatu, left, kisses son Marley as his wife, Theresa Fuavai-Fatu, holds Myracle in the neonatal unit at Mercy San Juan Medical Center, where the twins were moved after birth. With them is son Journey, 12.