In A World First, Doctors Save Critically-Ill Pregnant Woman And Her Baby

October 4, 2021

In a world first, a pregnant woman with pulmonary hypertension was sustained for weeks on a specialized life support long enough to deliver her premature baby.

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Candice Cruise / CTV News

Earlier this year, 37-year-old Candice Cruise was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a type of high blood pressure that affects arteries in the lungs and in the heart. It can be fatal.

"I felt that I was dying, and I had two masks on my face just to keep my oxygen up and it wasn't doing anything," Cruise told CTV News. "So that was the scariest."

She was also 21 weeks pregnant when the diagnosis came.

In most cases, patients with pulmonary hypertension will only survive if they get a lung transplant. However, that was not possible for Cruise if she wanted to keep her baby.

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Candice Cruise / CTV News

Doctors at Toronto General Hospital decided to try to find a way to keep both mom and child alive until the baby was big enough to deliver.

"We began to wonder, you know, can we see this through and can we just let nature sort of take its course and see if we can carry her along — and then we realized we could," said Dr. John Granton, a consultant in respirology and critical care at the Toronto General Hospital.

They put Cruise on ECMO, a form of life support that features a machine that performs essential functions of the heart and lungs.

 

"We're equipped for it, but this was a completely different way of using ECMO," Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, director of the Toronto Lung Transplant Program, told CTV News.

"This was a unique configuration, because she has a very specific problem. She cannot pump blood across the arteries in her lung anymore. And so what we did is used a low pressure ECMO system called Novalung for her right heart to pump blood around her lungs to the left side of her heart, which would send it to the rest of her body."

And it worked.

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Candice, husband Collin, and their baby

Cruise stayed hooked up to the machine for 7 weeks, which was long enough for doctors to deliver her one-pound baby by C-section.

Now three months later, after a successful double lung transplant, she is home with her husband Collin and daughter Caitlyn, with new lungs and a healthy baby boy.

"To have a healthy mom and healthy baby after this whole journey, it's just incredible, and to survive to a lung transplant, as well is amazing," Dr. Granton said. "I don't think that's ever, ever happened."

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