Top Doctors’ Tough Calls: The Heart-Attack Pregnancy

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1114-heartattackpregAllie Hershberger was 35 weeks pregnant when she noticed a tightness in her chest and a sharp pain in her back that radiated down her left arm. She was only 26, with no personal history of cardiac problems. Surely she couldn’t be having a heart attack. But her obstetrician sent her straight to the hospital.

“I was in shock,” Hershberger says. “My pregnancy had been perfect. I had friends who were pregnant, and I’d felt bad for them because they’d been so sick.”

At Community Hospital South, tests confirmed the heart attack. Interventional cardiologist Bradley Weinberg was dealing with a situation that only occurs about once in 20,000 pregnancies, yet he had to think quickly. He wanted to give Hershberger blood thinners, but he couldn’t: They would have significantly increased the risk of bleeding and complications during delivery. So the doctors needed to deliver the baby first, and then deal with Hershberger’s heart attack.

In a half-hour, Weinberg assembled a team of nearly 30 experts and support personnel. Their chief challenge was figuring out the best sequence of the multiple necessary treatments. Working together in the cardiac catheterization lab, they injected Hershberger’s blood vessels with dye and took an X-ray to assess the problem; delivered her daughter via emergency C-section; and then immediately began operating on her heart to open a blocked artery.

Within the Community Health Network, it was the first time a baby had been delivered in a cardiac catheterization lab.

1114-weinberg“Cardiac catheterization procedures are always a team effort, so we have protocols and routines,” Weinberg says. “But this was really three or four teams working well together.”

Now nine months old, baby Samantha is doing well. Doctors were never able to determine what caused Hershberger’s heart attack—perhaps an errant blood clot. Now Hershberger, who has a family history of cardiac problems, is doing what she can to prevent a repeat by exercising and eating better. Weinberg’s staff checks in with her once a week.

“They have been absolutely great,” Hershberger says, “and I’d like to think it’s changed all their lives, too.”

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