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Rare heart condition turns mom’s joyous moment into life-or-death challenge

Julie Shoup

Julie Shoup was a freshman and her husband, Cary, a sophomore when they first met at Bishop Carroll High School’s homecoming game.

They’ve been together ever since.

But shortly before their 18th anniversary, the Wichita couple’s life together came dangerously close to an end with the birth of their fourth child. Julie, age 40, had developed a relatively rare condition during delivery called post-partum cardiomyopathy, which caused her heart to fail and her organs to begin to shut down.

Her condition was so grave that their parish priest performed last rites and their three children were taken out of class so that they might see their mother one more time should she not survive.

However, with timely intervention and an experienced team of physicians and other Wichita caregivers at Ascension Medical Group, Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph and Ascension Via Christi St. Francis, Julie did survive a condition that, even with the best of care, claims the lives of eight out of every 10 women.

“My guardian angel told me it would be OK,” says Julie. “And it was.”

‘We have to do more’

On Tuesday, May 24, Julie — 37 weeks into her pregnancy — went for a routine checkup. Her OB/GYN, who had been closely monitoring Julie because of gestational diabetes, was out of town. So she was seen by her doctor’s Ascension Medical Group colleague, maternal-fetal specialist Michael Wolfe, MD.

Her blood pressure was elevated, so Dr. Wolfe sent her to the Via Christi NewLife Center at St. Joseph for further testing and it was determined that she should be induced. Cary joined Julie at the hospital and arrangements were made for family to care for Madalyn, 15, Alexander, then 12, and Emily, 5.

After receiving medication to induce delivery, the anesthesiologist came in for her epidural.

“I don’t remember much after that,” says Julie.

Maximus arrived at 2:10 a.m., weighing 7 pounds, 2 ounces, and was admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for observation. Julie, whose breathing was increasingly erratic, was admitted to the intensive care unit, where she appeared to stabilize after being intubated and the fluid on her lungs removed.

But by early morning, her condition deteriorated rapidly and Bassem Chehab, MD, who leads Via Christi’s Structural Heart program, was brought in for a consult.

Dr. Chehab told Cary that they were doing everything they could, “But we have to do more.”

Julie was taken to the heart catheterization lab, where Dr. Chehab inserted a balloon pump in her heart to stabilize her for transport to St. Francis, leaving the baby she hadn’t yet met to continue to be cared for in the NICU.

Truly blessed

Julie, who was in and out of consciousness, was transported to St. Francis, which is staffed and equipped to provide advanced heart care to the most critically ill patients. Dr. Chehab took Julie to the OR, where he implanted a more powerful Impella heart pump to support her bodily functions and give her heart time to recover.

The first night, with the pump running at max capacity, was touch and go, says Cary. But by Friday, the pump was removed and Julie was up walking. On Tuesday, Cary brought Maximus to the Cardiothoracic ICU to meet his mother.

“Everyone in the CTICU was crying,” says cardiovascular sonographer Tristan Shaver.

When Julie left the next day, her ejection fractions — a measurement of how well the heart is pumping out blood — had gone from 15 percent to 30-35 percent. By early July, her ejection fractions were almost back to normal and she was expected to make a full recovery.

That puts her in a truly blessed group, as only a third of all survivors ever fully regain their health; others require aggressive treatment such as a heart transplant or implantable device.

“We felt the love of a very large prayer and support community,” says Cary. “We believe that, along with the care Julie received, had a lot to do with her recovery.”

About Roz Hutchinson

Roz Hutchinson is a Wichita wife, mother and chief spoiler of six grandkids and three Chihuahuas, a die-hard women's basketball fan, and director of Communications and Public Relations for Ascension Via Christi.