The day Stephanie Clause gave birth to her daughter, Caroline, at the Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart, was the happiest and scariest moment of her life. Shortly after her daughter was born, Clause’s joy was overshadowed by a potentially life-threatening condition that caused her to lose an excessive amount of blood.
“After giving birth, I started going in and out of consciousness,” Clause, who lives in Gulf Breeze, recounted. “A nurse noticed that I was losing a lot of blood. There was a point that I didn’t think I was going to make it and all I could think about was whether I would be able to see my daughter again.”
After a baby is delivered, the muscles in the uterus continue to tighten (contract) to separate the placenta from the uterine wall and to close off the blood vessels where the placenta was attached. In Clause’s case, her uterus wasn’t contracting to close these blood vessels, which lead to a condition known as postpartum hemorrhage. According to the World Health Organization, postpartum hemorrhage is the leading cause of maternal mortality and accounts for about 35 percent of all maternal deaths.
When her obstetrician, Dr. Jairan Duke-Elmore, a Sacred Heart Medical group obstetrician, couldn’t stave off the bleeding manually, Clause was rushed to interventional radiology to undergo a minimally invasive procedure called uterine artery embolization or UAE. By then Clause had lost up to two liters of blood – average adult has five liters of blood – and required an immediate blood transfusion. Sacred Heart is part of Ascension, the nation’s largest, nonprofit health system.
“When I was being wheeled down the hallway, I heard the words ‘interventional radiology,’” she said. “I had no idea what those words meant at the time, but I’m grateful for what the team did for me.”
Interventional radiologists perform minimally invasive, non-surgical procedures to treat diseases in the body. UAE has been performed since the late 1970s and has been proven to be effective treatment for postpartum hemorrhaging. This non-surgical treatment can help to preserve the uterus and has a faster recovery time compared to removing the uterus (hysterectomy).
During the procedure, Dr. Kevin Bradley, a vascular and interventional radiologist who practices at Sacred Heart Hospital Pensacola, threaded a small catheter through Clause’s femoral artery and navigated it to the uterine artery. There he deposited small particles into the uterine arteries that temporarily blocked 80 percent of the blood supply to the uterus. The procedure helped to stop Clause’s bleeding, so she didn’t require further blood transfusions.
“I work for a healthcare coaching organization, so I understand the importance of providing high-quality care,” Clause said. “But you don’t know how important that is until you are on the receiving end. I couldn’t have asked for a better hospital or team. Thanks to them I was able to hold Caroline and now can see her grow up.”
Even though uterine artery embolization has a 95 to 100 percent success rate, many women are still subjected to emergency hysterectomies because some facilities lack modern angiography suites that have a trained on-call interventional radiology team. Fortunately, Sacred Heart Hospital has the state-of-the-art equipment and trained team and physicians to perform this kind of procedure.