Written by Michelle Abt
Jerry Schwartz, MD, medical director of neonatology at Torrance Memorial
Medical Center, always tells people he has the best job in the world.
It’s not just that he and his staff get to save babies’ lives—it’s
also that he gets to work with an amazing team of people, which includes
expert neonatologists, obstetric anesthesiologists, obstetric hospitalists
and sub-specialty neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and labor and delivery
nurses, who work together every day to save lives.
It’s this team that makes Torrance Memorial one of the top hospitals
in the state and a top-notch Level III NICU. It is also this team, along
with staff from the medical center’s code blue team and adult intensive
care unit (ICU), that saved the lives of a mother and her newborn son
on Christmas Eve 2016 when a rare pregnancy complication turned a routine
delivery into a race against time to keep both mother and baby alive.
After an uneventful pregnancy, Stephanie and John Kane also expected an
uneventful delivery. Having achieved a full-term pregnancy meant they
had already avoided the complications they had experienced with their
first child, Annabelle—who had been born prematurely—so they
were excited to have their baby and return home to share the holidays
together as a family. But while Stephanie was in labor, she suffered an
amniotic fluid embolism (AFE), an extremely rare pregnancy complication
that is often fatal for mother and baby.
Stephanie was in serious distress. She was having trouble breathing and
had developed an excruciating headache. Within minutes she was taken into
surgery, where she went into full cardiac arrest. Specially trained teams
went to work to save her and her baby. Led by Patrick Donley, MD, the
on-staff obstetric anesthesiologist, the obstetrics team performed a caesarian
to deliver the baby. The neonatal team, led by Schwartz, worked to revive
the baby and transfer him to the NICU, while at the same time Torrance
Memorial’s code blue team was performing CPR to restore Stephanie’s
All this activity occurred in the span of about 15 minutes, and as Schwartz
observed, “It was done in almost complete silence. It was like a
ballet. Everyone was so well practiced we didn’t need to say much
to each other. And it was incredibly intense in that room. You could have
heard a pin drop.”
Stephanie was moved to the adult ICU where she remained for more than two
weeks until her organ function was restored. Meanwhile John was able to
bring his son, Jack, home with him after eight days.
Same Advanced Care, New NICU
As a result of the advanced care at Torrance Memorial, a situation that
could have ended in tragedy had a happy ending. Schwartz believes that
much of the credit for saving Stephanie and her son goes to the medical
center’s commitment to providing the most advanced care for the
families in the South Bay community.
This level of commitment will soon give families access to a redesigned
NICU, opening August 23, 2018. The design features 25 private rooms, so
parents will be able to have private time with their baby and even spend
the night, giving mothers and their babies more health-boosting bonding
time during those important early days and weeks.
“One of the reasons I love working here is that we are always able
to give our babies and their families what they need to achieve the best
outcome,” says Schwartz.
Meanwhile, the Kane family believes they have much to be grateful for.
Their children are happy and healthy, and Stephanie’s health is
restored. “I want to send the people at Torrance Memorial a heartfelt
‘thank-you’,” says John. “We have a beautiful
family, and that wouldn’t have happened without them.”
During quiet moments, Schwartz reflects on this day often. “That
was one of the most incredible experiences I ever had working with our
team,” he says. “I felt honored to have been part of it. And
to this day I still get choked up every time I tell this story.” •