A Sister’s Story: Erica Simone Turnipseed was having a great pregnancy when she developed HELLP syndrome at 24 weeks. HELLP stands for Hemolysis or rupture of the red blood cells, Elevated Liver enzyme levels in the blood, and Low blood levels of Platelets. HELLP is similar to preeclampsia, toxemia and pregnancy-induced hypertension. Erica’s blood pressure climbed to over 240/110, her kidneys failed, and a priest came in to absolve her of her sins. The last thing she remembered thinking as she lay on the operating table was, if I die will I go to heaven? Erica survived. Her baby, named Grace Ayodele Webb, lived a miraculous four days before she died. This is Erica’s story:
"The day started normally but I didn’t feel very good. But I thought it was something that I ate. I began to feel worse and I thought, something is not right. I went outside to catch a cab to the hospital but because of the rain and the heavy traffic the trip took nearly an hour. During the time in that cab, I went from discomfort to pain to continuous pain to the point where I was crying. I felt like something was really going wrong. When I finally got to the hospital there was a lot of protein in my urine and my blood pressure was rising.
The doctor said I had the symptoms of HELLP syndrome and I was given two steroid injections to help mature the baby’s lungs so we can make it to twenty-seven weeks. To them twenty-seven weeks was the magic number for my baby’s chance of survival.
I was in some sort of Twilight Zone. I had heard things about preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome but it was in the back of the pregnancy books and I hadn’t gotten that far yet.
Things got progressively worse and during the night, the doctor came and said that they were going to have to take the baby immediately. My kidneys had shut down and my blood platelets were low.
A perinatologist came in and explained to me the prognosis for a 24-week-old fetus. There were what seemed like hundreds of people in this frenetic energy all around and you know it’s all for you. A priest came in and gave me the Sacrament of the Sick, which is something they do if they think you might not make it. I realized that I was really, really ill. I sensed that at 24 weeks, they didn’t expect the baby to live, but what was now clear was they weren’t sure if I was going to live.
I heard them yell, "200/110."
I’m not a doctor but I know that is too high to be anybody’s blood pressure. By this point I’m crying and thinking, this might be it. You get to a point where you can choose to fear death, but if it’s going to come, it’s going to come. A priest came and prayed over me and for me. He absolved me of my sins. And I told them that I wanted to donate my organs. When it was time for anesthesia, he told me to count to ten. I remember counting to three and that was it.
When I woke up, the first thing I heard was, "She’s alive, Erica." It was my partner, Kevin. The baby had been baptized and he saw it. He said he heard her cry. She was under one pound. They wouldn’t let me go see her. They said I was too ill. My pressure had gone up to 240 before they were able to stabilize me. That was very tough. How can you say that to a mother? Part of my recovery was to see her…
Read the rest of Erica’s story next week in SisterSpace.
Erica Turnipseed-Webb, a graduate of Yale, is now a married mother of two other children and author of A Love Noire and Hunger, two critically acclaimed novels. She lives with her husband, Kevin Webb, in Brooklyn, New York. Her life-changing story appeared in The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy by Kimberly Seals Allers.
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