Finding hope in tragedy

Sep 8, 2018, 20:15 PM by Christopher Smith Gonzales
Compassionate care by UTMB health care professionals saves blood clot patient's life

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One night, when she was eight months pregnant, Natalie Beriault felt like her heart suddenly stopped before it lurched back into action. 

Beriault, 27, was at home by herself in Lumberton, Texas. She had been lying in bed most of the day when suddenly she had trouble breathing and thought she was going to faint. 

She told herself it was just anxiety. Her boyfriend was away on a business trip, so Beriault called a friend to come to her house. Beriault remembered worrying that if she went to the emergency room it would turn out to be nothing and she’d be stuck with a large medical bill. 

“I was just looking for any excuse because I didn’t want to go to the hospital,” Beriault said. 

But going to the hospital is exactly what Beriault should have done. After her fingers and lips started turning blue, she did visit her local emergency room, where doctors told Beriault she had a pulmonary embolism. A blood clot had traveled from somewhere else in her body to her lungs, which was complicating her breathing. 

A pregnant woman’s blood clots more easily to help lessen blood loss during birth. But that also means some pregnant women may develop a blood clot during their pregnancy, during childbirth or even up to about three months after delivery, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Blood clots are a serious issue for pregnant women, said Dr. Patrick Roughneen, professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at UTMB and part of the team of health care providers who helped treat Beriault. 

Women who are pregnant should be aware of the symptoms of blood clots, including shortness of breath, blue discoloration around the lips, leg or chest pain, and leg swelling. 

A blood clot that develops in the legs or arms can break off and travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. That is exactly what happened to Beriault and it can be a dangerous and life-threatening situation, said Roughneen. 

Beriault’s pulmonary embolism was so extensive that there was no longer any meaningful blood flow to her lungs, Roughneen said. 

“Not nearly enough to sustain life,” he said. 

It took about four hours from when Beriault started feeling short of breath to when she made it to UTMB by ambulance. When doctors first tried to remove the blood clot, Beriault went into cardiac arrest and essentially died on the operating table. 

After CPR was administered, Beriault was hooked up to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, or ECMO. The machine takes over for the lungs, oxygenating the patient’s blood as it runs through the machine. UTMB is one of only six hospitals in the Houston region with an ECMO machine. 

Beriault spent a week in a medically-induced coma. While the medical professionals at UTMB were able to save her life, Beriault lost her son, whom she was going to name Carter. 

Despite the tragic outcome, Beriault’s fiancée, Eric Brackin, was thankful to the team at UTMB and for the care she received here that saved her life. On social media, he thanked Roughneen, her surgeon, Dr. Lauren McTaggert, OB/ Gyn physician Dr. Violetta Lozovyy and the nurses in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit. 

“They are amazing people who really want to be there, doing their jobs, saving lives,” Brackin wrote on Facebook. “They not only cared for the patient, they cared for the family as well. They comforted us. They cried with us. They were there with us. We are forever grateful.” 

Beriault is currently undergoing physical rehabilitation and she and Brackin hope to get married and start a family in the near future. However, Beriault wants other women to learn from her story. 

“Don’t second guess it,” Beriault said. “If you have these symptoms, go to the doctor. It is not worth losing your life. You don’t want to go through what I went through.”