A Life and Death SituationJust after delivering her second child — a daughter named Willow — Whitney Davis, 33, began experiencing pain that radiated down her back and neck. Assuming the pain was related to her epidural and Cesarean section delivery, whitney scheduled the follow-up OB/GYN appointment that would save her life.
During the office visit, Whitney’s OB/GYN recommended she have a precautionary computed tomography (CT) scan at Texas
Health Presbyterian Hospital Rockwall. Whitney visited Willow in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and then went on to have the CT scan performed. The results of the test were terrifying.
Whitney was diagnosed with a dissecting aorta, a tear that occurs on the major artery that runs down the center of the chest cavity and carries blood throughout the body. Aortic dissections that rupture have an 80 percent mortality rate.
Whitney’s condition was complicated further because the tear was also ripping a hole in her left main coronary artery, which branches off the aorta. Whitney was rushed to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas on a CareFlite helicopter for cardiac care.
“As soon as we landed, a team of nurses and doctors was right there, looking over me, hooking me up to machines and getting me ready for surgery,” Whitney says. “I just kept praying and had faith that I would see my family again.”
Mark Pool, M.D., cardiovascular surgeon on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas, told Whitney and her husband, Chad, that Whitney needed open-heart surgery to fix the aorta.
Dr. Pool and Thomas Russell, M.D., anesthesiologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas, prepared Whitney for surgery to repair the damaged aorta. Dr. Pool performed selective antegrade cerebral perfusion — a procedure during which the heart pump is directly connected to the arteries supplying the brain with blood.
Despite the seriousness of Whitney’s condition, a successful six-hour surgery meant her odds of recovery were almost flipped; now she had a greater than 80 percent chance of a full recovery.
Two days after surgery, Whitney was removed from the ventilator. Across town, her daughter Willow, still in the NICU, was also turning the corner.
“At almost the same time Whitney was being taken off the respirator, Willow was taken off her respirator, as well,” Chad recalls. “They
both started breathing on their own, almost simultaneously.”
While baby Willow was slowly putting on weight by the day, mom was working hard to recover from her surgery. Whitney worked with physical and respiratory therapists to regain her strength. Her fi rst stop after being released from the hospital was Texas Health Rockwell to see Willow.
“She had been on a breathing machine, and until that day, had not been allowed to be held outside the incubator in the NICU,” Whitney says. “I was the first one to hold her. That was a really special moment for me.”
Two days later, Willow was released from the hospital and joined Chad, Whitney and their 9-year-old son, Carson, at their home for the
first night together as a healthy family of four.