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Family, hospital staff recall survival of new mom after more than an hour of CPR

MURRAY — The Gregerson family recently witnessed a holiday-time symphony — not one with stringed instruments or bells, but a symphony of medical response, Ryan Gregerson said.

On Nov. 8, two days after his wife delivered her firstborn child, she fainted into her husband's arms on the maternity level at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray.

Three nurses responded to Gregerson's calls for help, and things escalated quickly, he said. When the nurses couldn't get the new mother to breathe, they called the Medical Emergency Team and Arlee Gregerson was whisked to the Shock Trauma Intensive Care Unit.

On the way to the ICU, team lead Melissa Fox lost Gregerson's pulse, so Fox jumped onto the gurney and performed CPR as the other nurses continued to sprint down the hall, Ryan Gregerson recalled.

Once in the ICU, medical director Don Van Boerum took charge, much like a conductor, and orchestrated Arlee Gregerson's care, Ryan Gregerson said.

Within 12 hours and with the help of around 50 other medical professionals, the woman started to regain her senses, critical care attending physician Jim Orme said.

"There were so many factions within the hospital that came together and did their part, and if any one of those factions or parts didn't work, it wouldn't have worked," Van Boerum said.

"If people hadn't responded so quickly, if they hadn't figured out what was happening, she wouldn't have made it. It is just an absolute miracle and a testament to the skill and ability of all of the nurses and of all of the doctors here that they were able to do it," Ryan Gregerson said.

On Thursday three healthy Gregersons — Ryan, Arlee and baby Lucy — returned to the hospital for a program where they thanked the hospital staff for their service.

"I am so happy I can be a mom to Lucy, and I can never thank all of you for not giving up on me," Arlee Gregerson said. "I don't know how many people I've talked to that have told me that you didn't have to do CPR for that long, and I don't know why you guys did, but thank you."

Many tears and hugs were shared among the Gregersons and the medical staff as they discussed their perspectives about her treatment.

Maternity nurse Kristi Russel said Gregerson's rapid decline in health was unexpected because most maternity medical complications come within 24 hours of a baby's delivery, and Arlee Gregerson was two days postpartum when problems arose.

The body naturally tries to stop excessive bleeding by creating clots, Van Boerum said. But in some cases, like Arlee Gregerson's, this function works too well after pregnancy, and dangerous clots can occur.

Van Boerum diagnosed Arlee Gregerson with a pulmonary embolism. A blood clot had blocked an artery in her lungs, causing a cardiac arrest.

For more than an hour, members of the ICU team took turns giving Arlee Gregerson CPR.

"So often we are in the situation doing CPR where the outcome is not good, so of course that's running in the back of your mind that the odds are stacked against you," Van Boerum said. "Her blood pressure was pretty good with the CPR, the oxygen level was pretty good with the CPR, and there were a few movements that she made intermittently, and she seemed young and healthy, so I was certainly hopeful."

The clot began to dissolve after he gave Arlee Gregerson medication — a "great and courageous decision" that may have saved her life, Orme said

These medications can cause excessive bleeding, so they are not usually given to patients who have undergone recent surgery, Orme said. Arlee Gregerson had undergone a cesarean section two days earlier.

"In our unit, blood's something that you see on a daily basis, so I'm much more comfortable with some bleeding than a heart that is not working," Van Boerum said.

As predicted, the medicine caused bleeding, so Gregerson was transferred to the Radiology Suite where interventional radiologist Mark Kringlen and his staff were able to decrease the blood flow using catheters, Kringlen said.

It was after this procedure that Gregerson started regaining consciousness.

"It was when we started to talk about Lucy that she popped those eyes open and started to look at me," recalled ICU nurse Kaley Graham. "It was that moment that neurologically I knew she was intact."

The hospital gave special permission for Lucy to visit her mother in the ICU so mother and child could have some bonding time.

"The coolest thing (was) to see this mom go, in a 12 hour period, from getting CPR to getting to hold a baby," Graham said. "To me, that meant everything in the world."

Now, more than a month later, Ryan Gregerson said the images of his wife's near-death experience remain "crystal clear."

"Every time I think about it or talk about it, I feel gratitude. That's what comes to my mind," he said. "Emotions boil up and it's just happiness and gratitude that she is still here."

This is the most beautiful thing I can imagine, that they could save my sweet wife, that she could be a mother to our sweet daughter Lucy."

With a revitalized love for each other, Gregerson said his family looks forward to celebrating their first Christmas as a trio.

Email: vjorgensen@deseretnews.com

Twitter: TORIAjorgensen