It was an unthinkable question — “Do we save your wife or your daughter first?”
And for Sean Williams, it gave rise to another unthinkable question: “Can I do this by myself?”
His answer was no, so he told doctors and nurses at St. Elizabeth Edgewood to make decisions with his wife, Veronica, in mind first.
The events of March 9, 2022, unfolded from that point. Daughter, Brooklynn Williams, made her way into the world about eight weeks early by cesarean section in the cath lab — a place that typically helps hearts in trouble.
And Veronica’s heart was indeed in trouble. A form of myocarditis was the issue.
“It appears the whole muscle of the heart was completely weak from the inflammation,” said cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. George Christensen.
It was life-threatening. The doctor said at one point Veronica’s heart stopped. It forced the neonatal and heart teams to really look at the situation.
“This is one of those times that St. Elizabeth stood up, and took the opportunity to do what was best for mom and baby,” said Lindsay Calderon, cardiac surgery recovery nurse manager. “And that meant stepping out of our comfort zone. That meant doing things we’d never done.”
In this case, they brought baby Brooklynn from the neonatal intensive care unit she had to go to because her young lungs needed help to her mother who was with the heart team.
“They brought her up to me…when they weren’t sure if I was gonna make it or not, and they laid her in my arms,” Veronica said. “I don’t remember it, but they did do that.”
"It was probably a moment none of us will ever forget — just the vital sign reactions of mom and baby," St. Elizabeth NICU Manager Keri Hinson said.
According to the caregivers, at that moment, those vital signs improved.
“And I don’t think there was a dry eye in the station,” Calderon said. “And getting to actually watch it, and be a part of it … was an amazing feeling.”
“It’s amazing. Not something you could script, that’s for sure," Christensen said.
Veronica made it to the next steps: care at UC Health, which has an entire center dedicated to heart transplantation. Her physician, Dr. Louis Louis, talked about how important partnering with other local health systems is in cases like hers.
“If we have the buy-in of the community, if we have the buy-in of the health systems around Cincinnati, we will have something special here that will compete with the best hospitals in the world,” Louis said.
The chief of cardiac surgery also said after St. Elizabeth’s doctors stabilized her and saved her life by putting Veronica on mechanical support, UC was able to continue the care, diagnosing her with a rare form of myocarditis that meant her body’s immune system was fooled into attacking her heart muscle.
“We were excited when we made the diagnosis because it’s something we could treat through suppressing the immune system — just like with heart transplants,” he said.
It made it possible for Veronica to get better as her daughter got better at St. E’s NICU. Eventually, she and baby Brooklynn were well enough to go home.
“It’s like sad and happy at the same time," Veronica said through tears. "Just sad how everything went down, but I’m grateful to be here still.”
She’s here to raise her daughter with the man she’s known since childhood.
“They keep me together and let me know the world is more than work,” Sean said. “I come home and have peace and grace through them.”
Sean said their medical miracle workers made that possible.
“I can’t begin to thank them enough," he said.
All the hospital time, and time off from work, mean the Williams' have incurred costs. They started a GoFundMe.