At first, Shina Biblow thought her symptoms were related to the fluctuating hormones of pregnancy.
The Williams Lake-area mom was nauseated while pregnant with her first son, Morris, so she didn’t think much of the nausea, fatigue, hot flashes and heart-racing the second time around.
It wasn’t until she had trouble breathing and speaking through fits of coughing that she decided to go to the nearest hospital. That’s when she learned her heart was failing.
“My mother-in-law drove me in and I said goodbye to my son and I didn’t see him again until September 2,” she told Global News. “I had no idea I was getting sent away.”
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On Aug. 12, 2021, Biblow was airlifted to Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, where her heart rate soared to 190 beats per minute. A normal heart rate ranges between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
Testing found growths on her aortic valve that suggested a bacterial infection. Biblow, now 32 years old, was born with a very narrow aorta and aortic valve, and had surgery for the condition as an infant.
“I knew one day I would need a valve replacement because my valve, when they fixed it as a a baby, wasn’t perfect,” she explained. “So I knew surgery was going to come, just not when I was pregnant.”
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According to her cardiologist, Dr. Marla Kiess, the surgery Biblow needed to save her life posed a 40-per-cent risk of fatality to her unborn son because of the restricted blood flow he would receive during the procedure.
The surgery could only be performed at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, where the cardiac obstetrics and Pacific Adult Congenital Heart clinics were equipped to handle the complex case.
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“Open-heart surgery is risky,” said Kiess, who founded those clinics. “The fact that Shina was 15 weeks pregnant added a whole new layer to the complexity.”
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It was a difficult decision to undergo the surgery, said Biblow, knowing it could cost her the baby.
“The way I had to think about it was, without me there’s no baby. It was my only chance, the baby’s only chance and we just had to do what we had to do,” she told Global News.
“Our faith really helped us get through it as well, having lots of friends and family praying for us and supporting us. We just had to trust that the right people were in our lives for that reason and go with it.”
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Nurses, cardiologists, anesthetists, surgeons, infectious disease specialists, obstetricians and the intensive care unit collaborated by Zoom to create a care plan for Biblow. They needed to choose medication that wouldn’t harm the baby, and to create all kinds of backup plans in the event of complications.
“If she deteriorated before going to surgery, could we get the baby out? It was unlikely the baby would survive at that age, but there is a small chance, so we had a caesarian section tray in the room,” said Kiess.
“All these eventualities were put down on a care plan so everybody knew exactly what should happen if something went wrong.”
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On Aug. 18, Biblow underwent a successful operation to replace her infected aortic heart valve with a mechanical one that will last a lifetime. She recovered in hospital for several weeks and returned home, where her care continued virtually.
The team began planning for her delivery, complicated by the fact that many of the drugs used during pregnancy can cause bleeding at the time of labour and hemorrhage to the baby.
“We had to stop those before she goes into labour and give other intravenous blood thinners that we can stop as soon as she goes into labour,” Kiess explained. “She had to come down to Vancouver because we didn’t want her to go into labour far away.”
The delivery was a success, said Kiess, and baby Merritt was born via C-section at 38 weeks on Jan. 24, weighing six pounds, four ounces.
“He’s healthy and gaining weight. He’s so much different than his brother. He’s a lot quieter,” Biblow told Global News.
“So far, so good. Right now, they’re still getting my blood thinners right because being pregnant then not being pregnant — just the change of fluids, weight gain, weight loss.”
She will need to use blood thinners for the rest of her life to decrease the risk of a dangerous clot, but is otherwise trying to return to “normal life” at the family ranch outside Williams Lake. She said she can’t praise her care team enough for providing such “a great experience for a scary situation.”
– with files from Aaron McArthur
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