A new mum was nearly killed giving birth after amniotic fluid seeped into her bloodstream, stopping her heart for six minutes.
Jude Armstrong, 40, from Newtonabbey, County Antrim, Northern Ireland ‘turned purple and collapsed’ moments after her waters broke as she went into labour with her third son Ronan, now nine months.
As midwives at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital rushed the expectant mother to theatre, her terrified husband Nathan, 34, feared she’d had a heart attack.
But Jude had actually suffered an amniotic fluid embolism, a rare and potentially fatal condition, that sees amniotic fluid or matter from the foetus get into the mother’s bloodstream, triggering an ultra-serious reaction.
After she went into cardiac arrest and lost nine litres of blood – twice the amount in the average human body – following a catastrophic haemorrhage, Jude’s family were told to expect the worst.
But, remarkably, she pulled through after the November 2016 drama, and is now back at home with little Ronan.
‘When I first realised how serious what had happened was, I couldn’t stop crying and thinking about the what ifs,’ said Jude, who is also mum to Connor, six and Mason, five.
‘I came so close to leaving my boys without a mum. I was told it’s a complete and utter miracle I’m still here.
‘I’m so thankful for my body, and what it went through, and for the NHS.
‘Words can’t articulate how amazing they are. The quick thinking of the midwives, cardiologists, anaesthetists and obstetrician consultants who worked on me saved my life.’
Jude, who like her husband is a teacher, had enjoyed a healthy pregnancy with Ronan.
Although rare, amniotic fluid embolism is the fifth leading cause of maternal death in the UK.
It occurs when the amniotic fluid enters the mother’s bloodstream, causing the heart and lungs to collapse and massive bleeding.
The causes are not fully understood but it’s though it results from the breakdown of the placental barrier through trauma.
The condition used to be universally fatal, but if the patient is in a well-equipped hospital then they have a good chance of survival, although the death rate is still 16.5 per cent.
Then, at 39 weeks, her bump became so big that medics decided to induce her.
Having never been through the process before, she was nervous, but also excited about meeting her baby boy.
Though her memory is very hazy, she recalls contractions starting quickly after induction, as well as feeling ‘tired and floppy.’
‘The last thing I remember is my waters breaking. Nathan has since told me that I went purple and collapsed, and all the machines I was hooked up to started beeping,’ she said.
‘Midwives whisked me away and, just a few minutes later, came back and handed him Ronan, who’d been delivered using forceps because I’d gone into difficulties with breathing.’
After the emergency delivery, Jude went into cardiac arrest twice – her heart stopping for a total of six minutes.
Using a defibrillator, doctors resuscitated her, but she then began haemorrhaging uncontrollably.
‘Apparently, the blood was just pumping out of me. As quickly as I was being transfused, I was losing it again,’ she said, adding that she underwent an emergency hysterectomy to stem the bleeding.
‘The nine litres of blood I was transfused helped save me, so I’d really like to urge others to give blood if they can.’
Her organs failing, Jude was then placed in an induced coma. Her stricken family were told she probably wouldn’t make it and, even if she did, she’d likely be in a permanent vegetative state, due to the lack of oxygen to her brain when her heart had stopped.
While she was unconscious, Nathan brought Ronan into intensive care, allowing him some skin-to-skin contact with his mum in case the worst happened. He also played Jude videos of Connor and Mason playing and singing.
Miraculously, after 24 hours, she woke up, gripping her twin sister Rosie’s hand.
‘I had no idea what had happened. All I knew was that I’d given birth,’ she said.
‘I couldn’t speak because there were tubes down my throat, so I kept mouthing to the doctors, asking them where my baby was.’
In total, Jude was in hospital for almost a month recovering, in which time she had to learn to walk all over again.
Nathan and the boys came to see her every day, keeping a vigil at her bedside.
In time, doctors also explained the severity of the condition, telling her she was only the second case they’d seen in 30 years – the other being a patient who sadly didn’t survive.
‘I’d get really emotional seeing the boys,’ she said.
‘At first, I was too weak to even cuddle them. People had to help place Ronan on me, so I could touch him.
‘The condition could have been really dangerous for him, too. Thankfully, though, he was born weighing 10lb 3oz and is the healthiest, most content little baby.’
Now, Jude is working to raise awareness of amniotic fluid embolisms. And while she has taken a break from work to recover, she is growing stronger every day.
As well as having regular heart check-ups, she is due to have a brain scan, as she’s struggled with memory and concentration since the embolism, but is otherwise doing well.
‘It was a long time before I could talk about what happened,’ she said. ‘But I’m getting there. I’ve got an amazing support system of family and friends, and I feel unbelievably blessed.’