De Soto mother survives long odds
Tara Dalton returned Feb. 15 to Overland Park Regional Medical Center as a celebrity.
"It was kind of funny when we went back, it was a big thing," Dalton's fiance Keith Hutchings said. "Everybody knew her name, and they took her right up to a private room."
The visit was for a bout with the flu, but the hospital's response was for what the 25-year old De Soto woman survived on her previous visit.
"She's the best save I've had in 12 years of practice and certainly one of the most gratifying" said Dr. Richard Thompson of Overland Park Cardiovascular. "An 11-week-old baby and 3-year-old not having a mother around any more? It's truly one of the most fulfilling cases I ever been around."
Dalton's crisis started the evening of Jan. 29 soon after she returned to her home from picking up pizza for her 3-year-old son Evan Murphy and Hutchings. The chest pains she had been experiencing since the Nov. 5 birth of her second child, Aspyn Hutchings, where more severe and she felt light-headiness, nausea and other symptoms associated with heart problems.
'Something wasn't right'
Concerned, Hutchings called 911. Dalton's heart checked out fine on two electrocardiogram readings performed at the couple's 82nd Street home, but the symptoms persisted after the EMTs left with the caution that they weren't telling the couple not to go to the hospital.
That is what the couple did but not before considering options.
"I though maybe I had the flu that was going around," Dalton said. "I thought maybe it was angina or gas. I was thinking maybe if I laid down and got some rest I'd feel better."
"Something wasn't right," Hutchings said. "Doctors told me if we had went to bed that night, I would have been the only one to wake up."
The couple arrived at Overland Park Regional Medical Center's feeling somewhat guilty but those feelings disappeared when an EKG there showed an erratic heart pattern.
Things quickly got worse. As the hospital's staff prepared Dalton for surgery to look for blockage to the heart, Dalton's heart stopped beating for the first of five times during what would be more than seven hours of surgery.
Thompson speculates Dalton developed a small rend in the inside layer of one of two main arteries to the heart. Overtime, the tear grew, allowing blood to seep between the artery's two inner layers. The inner wall pulled away or "dissected," shutting down blood to the heart, Thompson said.
Dalton probably developed a small tear with the birth of Aspyn, Thompson said. Pregnant women produce hormones that soften the uterus to ease childbirth and the same hormones soften blood vessels to allow the flow of extra blood needed to support the mother and baby, Thompson said.
In two to three cases per 100,000 births, the weakened blood vessels can lead to problems such as those Dalton experienced, Thompson said. But those are generally seen in women 35 or older with risk factors such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
Dalton's case was more unusual because the dissection occurred in her left main artery to the heart and its location on the artery, Thompson said.
Dalton needed a heart bypass. Before the surgery began, doctors told Hutchings and gathered family members she had a 2 percent chance of surviving.
"It was even less than that," Thompson said. "We were pretty candid with the family. She basically died in the emergency room. "
Thompson credited Dalton's survival through the difficult surgery in which she had four more heart attacks was a team effort that included hospital emergency, surgical and ICU staff, including his partner Dr. George Pierson, and Dalton's family.
"Two ICU personnel volunteered so that somebody would be in her room full time," he said. "Her family was there for her the whole time."
The will to survive
Her last conscious thoughts as she was being prepared for surgery were of her children, Dalton said.
"Of course my kids were the first thing that came to my mind," she said. "What if I wasn't there for my kids?"
Thompson counted Dalton as a team member, too, and credited her feelings for her children for helping her beat the odds.
"If you don't have something to live for, you don't survive," he said. "She's very strong and had a great will."
Kept on sedatives after the surgery to help her rest and prevent her from pulling on the many wires and tubes that sustained her - a struggle doctors saw as a good sign - Dalton didn't regain consciousness until four days after her surgery. Awake, Dalton began to understand just what she had overcome.
"Doctors and nurses came in and just stared at me," she said. "They said they were a little astonished because I had almost died. I actually did five times."
After six days in ICU and another in the hospital, Dalton returned home. She is still weak and was told not to drive, exert herself or lift more than 10 pounds, meaning she can't pick up Aspyn.
Dalton, who lost her medical insurance shortly before her crisis, also returned home with a hospital bill of "hundreds of thousands of dollars" and $450 a month prescription drug bill. To help her, the De Soto VFW Post 6654 will have $15 per person band and barbecue night from 6 p.m. to midnight March 15. Collection jars also have been placed at Team Bank, Beer 20, De Soto Pizza Hut, Meiners Market and De Soto J-Mart.
Aside from the bills, Dalton looks forward to lifting Aspyn, putting the baby down for the night and doing the simple homemaking duties for both her children and husband she used to take for granted.
He and the hospital staff find joy in Dalton's being there for her family, Thompson said. So impressed in Thompson by the experience, that he is thinking of writing her case up for a medical journal.
"If for nothing else than to remind people that although this is rare, it still happens," he said. "This is very rare. She didn't fit the profile. Sometimes patients don't read the books."