During my 38-week check-up, the Midwife tearfully informed my husband and I that a heartbeat was not detected from our precious baby boy. Daniel and I held each other and cried, believing this to be the worst of it. In a daze, we went to the hospital to induce labor and on December 16th 2015 I experienced an Amniotic Fluid Embolism. It was not until my post-hospital follow-up that it truly sunk in how rare and deadly AFE could be. The Staff Obstetrician shared that she recognized my symptoms in the delivery room and knew she needed to act immediately because her colleague had lost a patient who suffered an AFE. It was the second AFE case that she encountered. My life was without a doubt saved by my OB team’s knowledge, care and support.
I spent the month I was hospitalized scared and confused, but it is the lack of autonomy that continues to haunt me. I have countless traumatic memories and initially, it seemed as though I lost everything. The trauma of losing Isaac was compounded by my AFE experience and the fear of chronic health issues. My AFE resulted in multiple organ failure and after three months it was determined that my kidneys would not recover and I would need to remain on dialysis until I could receive a transplant. My need for an organ transplant resulted in a medical separation from the Navy and within a few months, I lost my precious baby, my health, and my career.
The organized chaos of being hospitalized served as the needed distraction to the unfathomable loss I had just experienced. My grief seemed to hit me all at once when I was discharged from the hospital. At home, the silence suffocated me and I turned to the next distraction. There were many appointments, procedures, home care and medications to coordinate and remember. Being on dialysis multiple times a week while actively working on being placed on a transplant waitlist kept me occupied and I allowed it to consume me. My primary focus became finding a donor and obtaining a transplant. While dialysis kept me alive, long term dialysis started to damage my other organs and tissues. During one of my dialysis sessions, I was blessed to be joined by Miranda Klassen, the AFE Foundation Executive Director. Miranda later recalled, “I was immediately struck by her situation and overcome with emotion. Vanita was enveloped in a sea of blankets to help keep her tiny body warm during her treatment and all I could think was that it should be their baby swaddled in blankets instead.” Miranda and the AFE Foundation shared my story in hope that I would find a donor and provided a level of support that has gotten me through the worst of times.
While on dialysis, I struggled with depression as I debated whether I was worthy enough to obtain a kidney transplant. I was eventually listed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and was informed that due to my numerous blood transfusions, I was unlikely to match with a cadaver kidney. After almost two difficult years of dialysis I received a call from the on-call transplant coordinator. On August 5, 2017, the transplant team at Walter Reed called me stating they had a cadaver kidney that may possibly be a match for me and I needed to get there as soon as possible. I hung up in shock and disbelief, but somehow I got there. It was the most anxiety filled flight of my life as there were no guarantees when I landed. Fortunately for me, the donor kidney was healthy and I received a kidney transplant the morning of August 6, 2017. The mixed emotions of being an organ recipient is something that continues to be challenging to navigate. I found that I could not celebrate as another family grieved for their lost son. Instead I chose to be grateful that my donor made the choice to be an organ donor and I try to honor his life with mine.
I would love to say that receiving a transplant was the magical fix I needed to return to a “normal” life, but that was not the case for me. I continue to struggle with depression that stemmed from these life events, and I am finally allowing myself to process my grief for the loss of Isaac and the life I had imagined. It has not been easy to move forward and work towards a happy future, but I am lucky to have the support of so many wonderfully kind and loving people.
They have given me strength and courage when I had none and felt as though I could not go on. I am still here because of them. As I write this, I am 4 years post-transplant and continuing to work on accepting my new body, my new life and learning to love myself again. Inspired by the Social Worker who was an essential advocate for my family and I during my hospitalization, I have since earned a Master of Social Work degree in the hope that I will be a source of support for others. Daniel and I have made a home for ourselves with our two pups, Clementine and Kiwi.