December 28, 2009
Mike Hermanstorfer held his pregnant wife’s hand on Christmas Eve as it went ice cold, and she began to turn blue.
“Half my family was lying right there in front of me — there’s no other way to say it — dead,” he said. “I lost all feeling. Once her heartbeat stopped, it felt like mine did, too.”
What happened that day is a medical mystery. Doctors don’t know why Tracy Hermanstorfer and her baby almost died — and they don’t know how they came back from the brink in perfect health.
The family called it a miracle as it told its story Monday, just before leaving the hospital for home, four days after the ordeal.
The mother of two boys, ages 11 and 3, Tracy Hermanstorfer had no reason to believe her third pregnancy wouldn’t go as smoothly as her first two.
Her water broke about 5 a.m. on Dec. 24, and the couple headed to Memorial Hospital Central.
Her first two births were natural, she said, but this time she received drugs to speed up labor and control pain.
The labor was progressing smoothly when she began to feel weird, Hermanstorfer said. Feeling tired, she closed her eyes.
They didn’t open. Her heart stopped beating.
Dr. Stephanie Martin, the director of maternal-fetal medicine at Memorial, was talking to another patient when she heard a “code blue” emergency call overhead and came running.
Cardiac arrest during pregnancy is quite rare in healthy, young moms, Martin said, and for mom and baby to both survive is rarer still. Martin said she’s seen about 10 cases in her career, and never before have mother and child come out unscathed.
The room turned into an “absolute zoo” after the code blue call, Hermanstorfer said, with more doctors and nurses converging than he’s ever seen in one place. He was shuffled out into the hallway where two chaplains awaited him.
Meanwhile, nurse Becca Morelli performed CPR on Hermanstorfer, even though she thought it was hopeless.
“I thought we’d lost her,” Morelli said.
“That five minutes was about three days,” Mike Hermanstorfer said. “It went on and on and on.”
Martin came into the room and performed an emergency Caesarean section right there in the bed. No time to get to an operating room.
In less than five minutes from the code blue call, Coltyn Mikel Hermanstorfer was removed from the womb at 12:46 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
He was a robust 7 pounds, 4 ounces, and 19 inches long, but he wasn’t breathing.
“The first time I held Coltyn, he still wasn’t breathing,” Mike Hermanstorfer said. “They actually got him started while he was in my hands. I was literally there for his first breath.
“What more of a present could you ask for?”
And something else happened. Once the baby was out of her uterus, Tracy Hermanstorfer began to snap back to life.
Her heart started beating again.
By the time they had transported her to an operating room, she was telling people the baby’s name. That night, she was eating dinner. And by Monday, she was sitting up, holding her baby and ready to get home to her older boys.
Martin said she’s done a head-to-toe search on Hermanstorfer to try to find out why her heart stopped beating, with no success. All the typical reasons have been ruled out.
Furthermore, she can’t find damage to mother or child, despite the time they spent without a beating heart feeding them oxygen.
“There’s only one explanation, and it’s just an absolute miracle,” Mike Hermanstorfer said. “There’s no rhyme or reason as to why either one is here.”
Nevertheless, the dad is having trouble sleeping.
He wakes up constantly, listening for his wife’s breathing, making sure his young son’s chest is rising and falling.
“The last time I watched her close her eyes,” he said, “she almost didn’t come back.”