The Perinatal Special Care Unit (PSCU) at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns is designated for San Diego women who have premature labor, or whose pregnancies have been complicated by conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure. The following story is taken from the PSCU patient journal, a diary passed from room to room as women share the long hours and days of bed rest.
"Angel" Audrey Marie
Flowers just before
her pacemaker was
Jan. 14, 2009
My name is Amy Flowers. I don’t know if it’s the pregnancy hormones, my sensitive nature, or all those talks of inspiration from previous mamas’ journeys, but I found myself tearing up with each story I’ve read in this journal so far. It is an unbelievable roller coaster, this experience. You will find strength as a woman, mother, person that you never knew you had and you will be able to carry that with you throughout the rest of your life.
My story is different than most of the women here on the 4th floor. I am not here for pre-term labor, though I’ve met many courageous mama’s-to-be who have become close friends and are in that situation. My journey at PSCU started about twelve weeks ago when I was 25 weeks pregnant. I was at my regular OB appointment up in Temecula, where I live, and my OB checked the heartbeat on the baby and could not find one. When she finally found the heartbeat, it was erratic and she thought there may be an arrhythmia so she sent me to the local hospital emergency room to get it checked out.
When I got to the ER they sent me to Labor and Delivery to assess the baby themselves. They too had trouble getting a good read on the heartbeat. They decided it would be best to send me to Children’s Hospital in San Diego to get an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound specifically for the heart of the baby. This is my third child, and while my first two pregnancies went smoothly with no issues, at this point I still thought everything was fine with this baby and they were just being cautious. After all, I could feel the baby move quite often so I knew someone was still inside my belly.
The next day I made my way down to Children’s Hospital for the echo. The technician came in, did the ultrasound, and then left, saying he’d be right back. He came back with another technician and she did the ultrasound. Then she left and the doctor came in. Side note: I now know when the technician “leaves” and another comes in his place, that is not a good sign. Prepare yourself for some bad news.
So the doctor came in, told me my baby has a 2/1 heart block. I was going to be admitted to Sharp Mary Birch for the duration of my pregnancy, prepare myself to deliver this baby early — as soon as they see signs of stress, oh and she probably won’t survive if she’s born anytime soon. WHAT?!?!
This was all very quick and sudden. And what the heck is a 2/1 block? Well, I now know that it means for every two beats from her atrium her ventricles only beat once. Her heartbeat ranges from 65 bpm to 75 bpm — extremely slow for babies which normally have heart rates of 110-160 bpm. So I was admitted to Mary Birch on October 29, 2008 — which coincidentally, happened to be my 31st birthday. Happy birthday to me.
I’ve been here twelve weeks now. There are good days and bad days. The first two weeks I didn’t leave my room. I think I was still in shock over the situation and really didn’t want to see anyone. My family was constantly with me so I was already overwhelmed with social situations. After those first couple weeks though, family had to get back to their own lives, so their visits started to trail off.
After awhile it gets pretty lonely and you start to seek stimulation from the outside world. Enter the Arts & Healing groups. I highly recommend you ask to go to these groups. Even if you are feeling down that day it will help you to be around other people particularly other mamas-to-be. My favorite class is Arts & Crafts on Thursdays. Everything I make I know I will treasure as mementos of this experience. Heidi, the facilitator, is absolutely wonderful. She has so many great ideas. We’ve made dolls, picture frames, ornaments, journals. All special keepsakes from this journey.
Tuesdays are group therapy days. No need to be intimidated. It’s not like counseling. It’s just a chance to find out who is here and why they are here and for how long. And then we just chat about whatever, the doctors, the food, etc.
I was lucky enough to be here when they started animal therapy and the massages. I highly recommend asking your nurses about these two opportunities. I can’t say enough good things about the nurses. All of them. Sometimes they are the only people you see all day. It makes a huge difference to have a smiling, happy nurse. They are wonderful.
Hang in there. When you think you can’t hold on any longer just hang in there. At some point this will all be a distant memory. I’ve been here 12 weeks. I will have been here 16 weeks when this is all over. Then we start the second part of our journey at Children’s Hospital. If I can do it, you can do it. This experience will call upon strength you never knew you had. Once you realize you have it, no one can ever take that away from you. Your child will thank you and benefit from that strength.
I wish you the best and may God bless you, your unborn child, and your family.
Amy Flowers, Room 478
April 26, 2010
It's been over a year since I gave birth to Audrey. Looking back, I can remember that after 12 long weeks on the PSCU floor at Mary Birch, and after watching MANY other patients come and go, it was finally time to deliver my precious daughter, “Angel” Audrey Marie. She had held on in utero to the 37 week mark which was a true miracle!
Dr. Dowling delivered my baby girl via C-section with no complications and then she was whisked away to Children’s Hospital for monitoring. The “plan” was to immediately implant a pacemaker so her heart could beat correctly. However, little Audrey’s body managed to compensate for the slow heart beat and she was able to fully function on her own, despite the 2/1 block. After 5 days at Children’s Hospital, she was able to go home, which coincidently corresponded with my discharge day. I was prepared to go home without my baby so you can imagine my emotion when I found out we would be discharged together. What a happy day!
Audrey was heavily monitored by cardiologists and pediatricians for many months. When she was eight months old, the doctors determined that she was “failing to thrive” and decided it was time to implant the pacemaker. As you can see from the attached picture shortly before her surgery, she was quite tiny. We nicknamed her the “‘Lil Pixie” because of her petite features.
On October 16, 2009, our ‘lil pixie, “Angel” Audrey Marie Flowers, went into surgery. Everything went smoothly and after only two days in recovery she was released to go home. She has a scar in the middle of her chest about 3 inches long. To look at her now you would never know anything was ever wrong with her.
Audrey is now 15 months old and is just beginning to take her first steps. She has two older brothers that she has to keep up with! This little girl is still pint-sized but her personality is HUGE. I thank God for every moment we have with her thanks to the incredible knowledge and support from the Sharp family. Had Dr. Duerbeck not diagnosed her situation quickly and correctly, the outcome of this story could have been quite different.
Audrey’s challenges are actually just beginning, however. She will continue to need surgeries throughout her entire life. Her next surgery is planned for when she is 3 years old. We expect her to need surgery every 5-10 years to replace the battery on her pacemaker. To help offset the continual medical costs, I started making hair bows and tutu style hair bow holders to sell.
Thank you to all the nurses, doctors and staff at PSCU Mary Birch. I have made some lifelong friends through this experience. I owe a great deal of my strength to get through this trying time to the medical staff and personnel of Sharp.
For More Information
To learn more about Sharp's pregnancy and childbirth services or to find a Sharp-affiliated doctor, search for a San Diego OBGYN or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm.