Anthony and Danielle Fam had every reason to be happy: They were expecting a baby in a few months. But Danielle soon faced an emergency that put her and her baby at risk. Anthony remembers how his family was saved.

When doctors become patients

Anthony Fam, a hospitalist at Sentara Leigh Hospital, knew his wife Danielle had good reason to be tired one winter night: She had started a new job as an internist at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, and she was 26 weeks pregnant. As Danielle headed to bed at 9 p.m., Anthony decided to retire early also.

“I usually stay up,” Anthony says.

About an hour later, Danielle was making noises. Anthony thought she was having a nightmare, and he tried to gently wake her. She wouldn’t open her eyes. After several attempts, Anthony knew something was wrong.

“I checked her pulse and couldn’t find one,” Anthony says. “I started CPR.”

An ambulance rushed Danielle to Sentara Leigh Hospital. Her pacemaker, which helped her cope with congenital heart disease since age 5, was failing.

“She wasn’t getting better. She had too much fluid on her lungs,” Anthony says.

He had to make the decision for their baby to be delivered by C-section almost 13 weeks early, as doctors also performed a bronchoscopy on Danielle to look at her lungs. The staff at Sentara Leigh Hospital came together to care for mom and baby. Once stabilized, she was transferred to Sentara Heart Hospital and her son to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughter. Anthony walked back and forth between the two attached buildings.

“We were lucky to be there. We had planned a mission trip to Haiti and postponed it at the last minute, realizing the timing wasn’t right with Danielle entering her third trimester,” he says. “If we had gone, Danielle wouldn’t have been able to be helped with an ECMO machine. Most places in the world don’t have them.”

The ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood so that her heart and lungs can rest temporarily.

Danielle spent four days on the machine and two on a ventilator. Her hospital stay lasted 14 days.

“I thought it would have been much, much longer,” says Anthony.

“I’ve worked at a lot of hospitals outside of Sentara. There’s a level of care at Sentara that you can’t expect at other places. From the time we arrived at Sentara Leigh Hospital to the day Danielle was discharged, I have a tremendous amount of respect for all of the staff at Sentara,” Anthony shares.

“It’s powerful when people go out of their way for you and your family. So many did whatever they could for us.”

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