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Meghan Johnson: Compassion helps young woman through tragedy
by Peggy Bakken

Fate. Luck. Divine intervention.

St. Cloud resident Meghan Johnson isn’t sure why things happened the way they did that Saturday last spring, but she is sure that she was in the right place, at the right time.
Her proof? She is alive.

Thanks to the compassion and excellence she found at Maple Grove Hospital during her health crisis, she is healing physically and emotionally from her close encounter with her own mortality and the loss of her unborn child.

It was Easter week, April 2010. On Wednesday, March 31, she had visited the ER in St. Cloud, suffering from significant abdominal pain and lower back pain. She was 17 weeks pregnant and had been feeling great up to that time. After examination, the doctors thought it may have been kidney stones, not uncommon in pregnant women, even those young and healthy like Meghan.

On Saturday, April 3, Meghan, husband TJay and son Paytin (also known affectionately as PJay), were in Maple Grove for a birthday party at the community center. They arrived to the party at 11:00am. At 11:20am she felt an excruciating pain throughout her mid-section, a similar feeling she had the Wednesday before, but much stronger. She writhed on the floor. Her mother, who lives in Minnetonka, came to help her daughter and insisted that the situation was severe and they needed to call an ambulance.

TJay’s parents and family live in Maple Grove, so she was aware that a new hospital was open in the city. Meghan remained calm and collected, while her mother called Meghan’s insurance provider to be sure that Maple Grove Hospital was within her network. They were assured it was. When the ambulance arrived, she asked to be transported just down the road to Maple Grove Hospital.

By this time, Meghan was very pale and in constant pain. They arrived at the emergency care center around 2:00pm, where she was welcomed by a nurse named Robin. “Robin was so compassionate and so professional,” Meghan recalls.

She quickly was in the care of ER nurse Robin and ER physician, Dr. Christopher Palmer, who did an ultrasound on Meghan’s stomach. “You’re bleeding internally,” he told her. He called in the OB/GYN surgeon on-call, Dr. James Krause. He decided to perform a laparoscopic procedure, to cauterize what he believed to be an ovarian cyst that was bleeding. It was 3:15pm and they were keeping watch on her vitals while they discussed and prepared for the laparoscopic procedure.

At 3:45pm, Meghan’s vitals suddenly dropped dramatically, blood pressure dropped to 50/20. Her veins had shrunk so much that the medical staff had trouble drawing enough blood for testing and blood typing. “I kept telling them, I’m O negative, I’m O negative.” She was certain of this, having had a blood transfusion with a past pregnancy complication.

Her condition failed quickly. Her blood pressure was so low, and she struggled to breathe, due to blood around her diaphragm.

Meghan remembers looking at her Dad and her husband TJay, who were in the room, and thinking, “I’m going to die.” She worried about her husband and her 4-year-old son. Her nurse Robin, was with her and also was the one keeping family in the waiting room updated on her condition and what the doctor was finding.

Dr. Krause started a laparoscopic procedure, but there was so much blood he couldn’t see any of her internal organs. He immediately proceeded with a full incision. “He told me later, that he scooped a liter of blood out of me immediately when he opened me up.”

Dr. Taryn McEvoy, who was simultaneously delivering a baby in the birthing unit, was summoned down to the operating room immediately to assist. They also called Dr. Lori Wilcox, who was on-call at North Memorial Robbinsdale, and had her on speaker phone.  They talked through what they were going to do next.

Her insides were filled with blood. The doctor reported seeing that her uterus had ruptured, and her placenta was pumping blood into her body cavity at a rapid rate.

At this moment she was indeed minutes from death.

It was determined that the life of her unborn baby was doomed, and saving Meghan’s life was everyone’s priority. Dr. Krause and the surgery team quickly removed her baby and cleaned out her uterus, repaired her uterus, and took the necessary steps to stop the bleeding. There was no time to perform a hysterectomy.

She had survived.

At 4:26pm, her family was told what had happened and that she was in recovery. They were overwhelmed with emotion. Their prayers were answered.

Meghan spent the next 24 hours in ICU as she suffered breathing spasms and was under close supervision. They managed her vitals and administered her second blood transfusion. Easter Sunday, her room was filled with friends and relatives — and nurses. She spent another three days in ICU recovering. Meghan has a long list of nurses who were there for her, checking on her health and helping her recover, emotionally and physically.

“Some of them would come sit and talk with me, some would cry with me,” she recalls.

As Meghan started her recovery from this physical trauma, she and TJay turned their thoughts to their unborn child. They named him Alex Robert. They worked closely with hospital chaplain Greg Bodin. “He baptized Alex for us, and he spent a lot of time with us and prayed with us.”

Staff at Maple Grove Hospital, along with the pathology department at Robbinsdale, took a photograph of Alex, and captured his tiny hand prints and footprints onto a keepsake card for the Johnsons. “Who does that? Just imagine the time it took for them to get those prints for us. Each little hand, foot, fingers and toes.” Meghan said, “It’s something we will cherish forever, and it is an incredible gift.”

Over the five days she spent at Maple Grove Hospital, Meghan found comfort from the staff. “They were all so great. I told them, ‘you must feel so lucky to work here.' Everyone was so attentive, nurturing and kind.”

Meghan continues today with her healing process. She is healthy, but still feels the loss of Alex, as well as knowing she will never be able to have another child.

She feels blessed each time she looks at Paytin. The doctors believe there was a defect in her uterus, which has been part of her anatomy her whole life. She feels fortunate that she had Paytin, who is a normal, healthy little boy.

Husband TJay recalls the whole experience with overwhelming emotion and great appreciation. “I’m the luckiest man on earth. I can’t imagine my life without my wife, and even more, I couldn’t imagine PJay without his mom.”

Meghan also recalls sitting in her hospital room, talking with surgeon Dr. Krause. “It’s surreal telling your doctor, ‘thanks for saving my life.’”

Meghan and TJay also found comfort elsewhere in Maple Grove. They had learned from Greg Bodin and the hospital staff about the Maple Grove Arboretum and its Angel of Hope. Patty Anderson at Maple Grove Parks and Recreation worked closely with the Johnsons to find a perfect tree in the Arboretum to be Alex’s tree. They took special care to see that the plaque was set in, the grass was trimmed and the tree area was ready for them last month, when they hosted a memorial service for Alex with their families. Hospital chaplain Greg Bodin was there to lead the service. “It was a beautiful day.”

Meghan is grateful to everyone at Maple Grove Hospital for helping her through such a difficult experience.

“I thank God for watching over me, for choosing the right doctor, and for helping that doctor make the right decisions, fast.  I was in the right place, at the right time.”