The best team and the best facilities give doctors the best chance to save your life. Just ask Jennifer McGuire
By Kristy Bleizeffer Sep 9, 2014
When Jennifer and Sean McGuire bought a big house in west Casper, they dreamed of filling it with children. But their first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. They wondered if a family would be possible.
In early 2012, they learned that Jennifer was pregnant again. They felt particularly blessed. Not only was it another chance to start their family, but two years earlier Sean’s dad, Dr. Robert McGuire, a respected OBGYN from Cheyenne, had been diagnosed with a stage IV glioblastoma – brain cancer. A new grandchild would give him something to look forward to. Baby Ciernan’s due date – Sept. 27, 2012 – also seemed to have special meaning. It was exactly one year after the death of Sean’s grandfather, Charles, who had stood alongside Sean’s father as best man at their wedding.
“There were just all these really special connections about this pregnancy and this impending child. We were very excited about it,” Jennifer said.
But baby Ciernan wouldn’t come easily. Both he and his mother nearly died in childbirth, and Jennifer credits the team at Wyoming Medical Center and Dr. Laura Smothers for saving them.
“Childbirth is a gift from God. Before Ciernan was born, I took it for granted because everyone has kids,” she said. “But now I know you need great facilities for cases like mine, because they do happen.”
‘Time to start pushing’
Jennifer’s pregnancy had been nearly perfect. Then, Sean’s dad passed away on Aug. 19, 2012, and Jennifer started pre-labor contractions. Take it easy, Dr. Smothers told her.
On Sept. 26, Jennifer and Dr. Smothers decided to induce labor because, at 40 weeks pregnant, Jennifer wasn’t progressing as she should. She hadn’t progressed much by the next morning, either. About 1 p.m. Sept. 27, Sean glanced at Ciernan’s heart monitor and said the beats looked slow.
Jennifer’s head nurse, Cyndi Hinchey, a woman Jennifer says she’ll never forget, noticed Ciernan’s heart monitor when she walked in the room. Jennifer looked to be bleeding, and Sean asked if that was normal. It’s more than we like to see, Hinchey answered. A team of nurses responded. They read charts, asked questions and gave direct orders. They were no nonsense, like drill sergeants.
It wasn’t how Jennifer’s birth plan was supposed to go. She wanted immediate skin-to-skin contact with her son, to hold him against her chest. She wanted Dr. Smothers, her good friend as well as her physician, there to coach her through.
"Dr. Smothers is on her way," a nurse told her. "It’s time to start pushing."
Ciernan was crashing. Smothers arrived after Jennifer’s first round of pushing and delivered him with forceps. Sean cut the umbilical cord.
He’s not crying, Jennifer thought, even as Dr. Smothers and a team of nurses continued to work on her. Not a good sign.
Ciernan recovered quickly. His heart rate stabilized and his temperature rose. Jennifer watched as nurses handed him to Sean, and gratefully took her son into her arms for the first time. She didn’t get her chest time, but there he was. Her healthy baby boy.
And yet, something didn’t feel right. She felt woozy. Her vision blurred. Dr. Smothers was pressing hard on her abdomen, and several nurses seemed hyper-focused on her. She handed Ciernan back just before vomiting. She glanced at the clock and thought: They’ve been working on me for a long time.
Jennifer thought she saw rainbow-like halos floating over everyone in the room. Then she heard Dr. Smothers calling for blood.
"What’s going on?" Jennifer asked.
"You’re bleeding," Dr. Smothers said. "I just don’t know from where. I need to get you to an operating room."
Jennifer kissed Sean, and she kissed Ciernan. She prayed: Lord, if this is my time, please forgive me for my sins and take me to heaven.
A ‘most terrifying’ case
Dr. Smothers was worried. A full-term woman can bleed 500-ccs (about one pint) a minute, and Jennifer was hemorrhaging blood so quickly Smothers couldn’t tell if she’d suffered a cervical tear or something else.
Anesthesiologist Dr. Kerry Engelking happened to be walking by just as Dr. Smothers called for blood. He rushed in, put an IV in Jennifer’s collapsed veins and started hanging blood. Sean held Ciernan in one arm while squeezing fluid into his wife with the other.
As they wheeled Jennifer to the operating room, Dr. Smothers whispered the 23rd psalm under her surgical mask: “…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me...”
Jennifer suffered a rare placental abruption, meaning the placenta tore away from the uterine wall. It caused DIC – disseminated intravascular coagulation – in which her body used up all her blood’s clotting factors. Blood was pouring out of her as quickly as they could get it in. Before it was over, Jennifer would take 13 units of blood, 6 units of plasma and 2 units of platelets -- about two times her body’s normal volume. Dr. Smothers performed an emergency hysterectomy to save Jennifer’s life.
“It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve had to deal with,” Dr. Smothers said. “Here is this couple who only have one baby, and they are friends of mine. I was thinking. I’m going to have to go tell my friend that his wife just died.”
Despite the seriousness of Jennifer’s case, everything happened as it should have when it came to treating her. Labor and delivery nurses recognized right away that Ciernan was in trouble and called Dr. Smothers. Dr. Engelking happened to be walking by, someone pulled Dr. Susan Sheridan in from the hallway, and the OR staff pulled together as one cohesive team, Smothers said.
“It takes so many people in this kind of emergency, just to be available. I thought everything went as smoothly as it could go,” she said. “We actually had a lunch in the OR about a month later so they could see that Jennifer and Ciernan were OK. A lot of times people in the OR don’t get to see how patients turn out. We just wanted to say thank you.”
A happy ending
Jennifer woke up in ICU. Dr. Smothers explained about the emergency hysterectomy, and that Ciernan would be her only child. Jennifer didn’t care. She had a son. He was OK. She, Sean and Ciernan would be more than enough to fill their home.
Sean and The Birthplace nurse Rebecca Galles snuck Ciernan into the ICU around midnight so Jennifer could hold and breastfeed him. Another nurse, Sue Renz, cried when she saw the physical trauma the ordeal left on Jennifer’s body. A volleyball-sized hematoma from the DIC formed on Jennifer’s side, and she suffered serious bruising. The care touched Jennifer deeply. Jennifer underwent another surgery the next morning to make sure the bleeding had stopped, and she spent five days in the hospital.
“Every nurse who took care of me was extremely kind and empathetic. I walked away from Wyoming Medical Center almost not wanting to leave because I was taken care of so well,” Jennifer said.
On Sept. 27, 2014, exactly two years after Ciernan’s very eventful birth, Wyoming Medical Center will open its new McMurry West Tower to the Casper community for the first time. The entire third floor is devoted to the Ruth R. Ellbogen Family, Mother and Baby Center which features private patient suites big enough to accommodate whole families; a Level II nursery which will allow us to care for more premature babies in Casper and close to their families; and a dedicated operating room for complex cases and emergencies, like Jennifer's.
Jennifer is thankful for Dr. Smothers, both for her expertise and for their shared faith. Dr. Smothers and her husband, Dr. Lane Smothers, are Ciernan’s godparents.
Ciernan, now almost 2, is all boy. He loves construction, bulldozers and moving dirt. He loves making his parents laugh and clap for him. No one can make him laugh like his daddy.
Jennifer is most thankful that she gets to see Ciernan grow up. “I know my time on earth didn’t end for a reason. I will never go anywhere else for my care.”