March 8, 2019

UAMS Saves New Mom

When 22-year-old Christina Gillihan left Searcy in an ambulance bound for UAMS, she and members of her family were hoping for a miracle.

In the days and weeks after her daughter Kyra’s birth July 2 at a local hospital, Gillihan developed a blood clot in a main artery of her lung, then a massive hemorrhage in her uterus.

After going through 27 units of blood over a number of days, her bleeding still was out of control, her blood pressure critically low (90/50) her heart rate extremely high (130) she was dying. Before her ordeal ended, Gillihan received 37 units of blood, about three times the amount in her body.

Gillihan wiped back tears as she recalled her near-death experience.

“I could tell by the way I felt that I was going to die,” she said. “It was hard because the last time I saw Kyra before I came to UAMS I was scared that that was going to be the last time I got to see her.”

Gillihan arrived at UAMS at midnight and was taken immediately to the angiography suite where her blood vessels were injected with dye to help X-rays identify the location of the hemorrhage. Doctors who saw it said it was among the worst uterine hemorrhages they had ever seen. An OB/GYN physician consulted with Ruizong Li, M.D., an interventional radiologist. A hysterectomy the complete removal of the uterus was one option, but the decision was made for Li to provide a less radical, less invasive approach: a uterine embolization.

A uterine embolization involves threading a catheter from the femoral artery in the groin to the uterine artery, where a series of tiny, sponge-like particles are released, explained Michael Beheshti, M.D., chief of the Division of Interventional Radiology at UAMS.

The particles stop the blood flow. For Gillihan, the procedure took about 45 minutes. She began to feel better almost immediately, and she was comforted by the sound of a nurse calling out her improving vital signs.

“Literally at the conclusion of the procedure her blood pressure was stable, her pulse rate stabilized, and she was able to go home a few days later,” Beheshti said.

Gillihan’s mother, Michelle Spence, of Melbourne, said she will never forget the treatment her daughter received at UAMS.

“The doctors and nurses were right on the ball,” she said.

“I can never say in words what UAMS has given back to me.”

Beheshti said the uterine embolization is a straight-forward procedure, but uterine hemorrhages are uncommon enough that many doctors aren’t aware of the treatment options beyond a traditional hysterectomy. UAMS, for example, sees only a few uterine hemorrhages each year, he said.

“Too often, patients like Christina end up in an operating room and have a hysterectomy, which prevents a woman from ever having another baby,” Beheshti said, adding that an embolization preserves a woman’s ability to have children in the future.

Gillihan has been advised by doctors not to have more children, given the complications she experienced this summer. But she says she’s just grateful for the opportunity to be Kyra’s mother.

“I’m thankful for the doctors at UAMS,” she said. “They fixed me up and made it to where I could be with Kyra now.”