Front page: Doctors call a Church of God member's recovery a miracle after 'maternal disaster'

By Dixon Cartwright

Doctors, nurses, therapists--just about everybody on the staff--in the maternity and intensive-care departments of Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) in Minneapolis, Minn., say Hope Lindholm is a walking, talking miracle.

Mrs. Lindholm, a Church of God member from the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Park, is home with her husband, Tim, 43, and their four children and doing well after suffering from almost-always-fatal amniotic-fluid embolism after the birth of their fourth child on Dec. 27.

Amniotic-fluid embolism is a rare coma-inducing "maternal disaster" in which the fluid (urine from the baby) and fetal cells, hair or other debris enter the mother's bloodstream through the placenta and trigger an allergic reaction that results in collapse of the lungs and a heart attack.

It is such a rare malady that most doctors will never encounter it in their professional careers.

Of the babies who survive such births, only 15 percent survive "neurologically intact."

Mrs. Lindholm, 39, entered the hospital Dec. 27 in the midst of a pregnancy with complications.

Although the Lindholms (who attend with what they call "an interdependent home fellowship" and are "associated with the Church of God Big Sandy") had planned a natural-childbirth delivery in HCMC's nurse-midwife unit, because of other heretofore unforeseen complications Mrs. Lindholm's obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Sari Witzke, recommended a cesarean section for Friday, Dec. 27.

Cardiac arrest

"They began the C-section," Mr. Lindholm said later. "I was sitting behind the curtain with the anesthesiologist, talking with Hope. Not too far into the surgery, Hope complained of having to cough really bad. She finally struggled out three or four coughs, rolled her head back, wrinkled her face and passed out. She had gone into cardiac arrest."

Mr. Lindholm called for help; something was terribly wrong.

Operating-room staffers ushered Mr. Lindholm out of the room and into the hallway, where he stood for a few minutes until the birth of the baby girl. Then he was ushered to a waiting room.

Baby-girl Lindholm (as of The Journal's deadline, she still did not have a full name) was born at 5:40 p.m., weighing 5 pounds 9 1/2 ounces. Because she was premature, she headed immediately into intensive care.

Life-and-death struggle

Not long after the birth Mrs. Lindholm's doctors told Mr. Lindholm they were struggling to keep her alive.

"She was in extremely critical condition," Mr. Lindholm said, "and they did not have her stabilized yet. She was sedated and on a ventilator. They had been giving her buckets of blood and couldn't seem to get the bleeding to stop."

Mr. Lindholm said he knew his wife "needed God's intervention," so he telephoned a close friend and fellow Church of God member, Dona Fehr of Minneapolis.

"I asked Dona to send out emergency prayer requests and updates for Hope."

Shortly afterwards close friends and family members began filling up the waiting room.

Mr. Lindholm, with help from another friend and church member, Scott Gjesvold, contacted another friend, Mitch Knapp, pastor of the St. Paul, Minn., congregation of the United Church of God, to ask Mr. Knapp to anoint his wife, which he did.

Requests for prayer

Mrs. Fehr's E-mails were forwarded and reforwarded to hundreds if not thousands of people. Church of God brethren, friends, acquaintances, even total strangers were praying for Mrs. Lindholm daily as they read the sometimes optimistic and frequently distressing calls for help for Mrs. Lindholm.

The doctors, in the hours after the C-section, repeatedly told Mr. Lindholm things were not going well. Mrs. Lindholm was bleeding profusely, and they could not determine why.

So, with Mr. Lindholm's permission, the doctors brought her into the operating room for a second round of surgery, informing him she had perhaps a 20 percent chance of surviving.

"At some point" in those early hours, "there were some 42 people in the waiting room who participated in a group prayer," Mrs. Fehr said. "Many were singing hymns."

During the next 33 days Mrs. Fehr would send out as many as eight updates via the Internet in a day.

Unit after unit

After the second surgery Mrs. Lindholm moved back to the intensive-care ward still in critical condition and bleeding internally. She was still sedated. Her heart and most organs seemed to be all right, but the doctors said her kidneys were shutting down. They pumped unit after unit of blood into her to keep her from bleeding to death.

Around 2 the next morning, Saturday, Dec. 28, the doctors brought her in for still another session of surgery to "clean out some of the blood and relieve some of the pressure on the kidneys and look for more bleeders [hemorrhaging blood vessels]," said Mrs. Fehr.

An hour later she was doing significantly better. The bleeding had almost stopped.

By 7 a.m. Mrs. Lindholm opened her eyes and looked at her husband, although she did not respond when he talked to her. Concerns at that point, said Mrs. Fehr, were of possible brain damage because of the lack of blood to her brain during the cardiac arrest.

A huge clot in a dangerous place

That afternoon the doctors dropped a bombshell. They told Mr. Lindholm they had discovered a blood clot in a main vein leading to Mrs. Lindholm's heart (a complication of the amniotic-fluid embolism).

The clot next to her heart wasn't just any blood clot. This one was six inches long, and the end of it was "dangling," they said, into the right aorta.

Because of the clot Mrs. Lindholm went back under sedation (to restrict her movement to keep the obstruction from migrating), and doctors discussed their options:

• Open heart surgery to remove the clot.

• The administering of clot-busting medication.

Neither was a good option. The doctors said she was too weak for surgery, and the medication could start the hemorrhaging all over again.

No apparent brain damage

On the morning of Sunday, Dec. 29, the Lindholms got some good news. Even though the clot was still poised in a major vessel next to her heart, a CAT scan indicated "nothing unusual" in her neurological system. Brain damage could not be ruled out, but there was no apparent brain damage.

But by that afternoon the kidneys were having major problems again, and the bleeding started anew.

On Monday the 30th Mrs. Fehr asked friends and brethren on the E-mail network to pray that the clot would dissolve and eliminate the need for heart surgery.

By 3:25 that afternoon doctors expressed concern that the clot would break loose. If it came loose and passed through the heart, it could block the left or right ventricle. If that happened surely Mrs. Lindholm would die, they said. Her condition at this point, not surprisingly, was "highly critical."

On Wednesday, Jan. 1, Mrs. Lindholm's vital signs continued to improve, even though the massive clot still sat there, next to her heart.

On Friday, Jan. 3, the baby was released from the hospital and went home with Dad and the other children.

Still alive

On Saturday, Jan. 4, at a little before 1 o'clock in the afternoon, the doctors called Mr. Lindholm at home to recommend he get down to the hospital as soon as possible; his wife was "deteriorating fast." The clot had come loose, and everyone feared the worst.

When he got to the hospital, Mrs. Lindholm was still alive, but her blood pressure and heart rate were critically unstable.

The medical staff had lost track of the clot; the doctors simply could not find it.

At this point, said Mr. Lindholm later, the doctors fully expected Mrs. Lindholm to die.

Her blood pressure was "going wacko and the doctors are trying to stabilize her," Mrs. Fehr frantically reported at the time. "We were at church when Tim called. We stopped and had intercessory prayer for Hope."

Two hours later Mrs. Lindholm was still alive and back in surgery. Her kidneys were once again shutting down; her stomach was "distended." They just couldn't get her stabilized.

Dr. Richard Zera recommended exploratory surgery to release some of the pressure on Hope's organs. Although she normally weighs about 125 pounds, because of fluid retention she weighed 228 pounds.

At that time Mr. Lindholm brought in a picture of his wife "so that the medical personnel could see the person they were dealing with."

Successful relief

The latest operation successfully "relieved the pressure inside," said Mr. Lindholm. His wife almost immediately responded favorably and continued at that point to improve dramatically.

By 5:45 p.m. that day Mr. Lindholm and Mrs. Fehr reported to friends that things were looking up for Mrs. Lindholm.

The doctors were surprised that such a massive clot could make it through the heart and through the right and left ventricles to the lungs without killing her, reported Mrs. Fehr.

The next day Mrs. Fehr reported to her E-mail list that "when the clot let loose the doctors thought she would die within three minutes. They are amazed that the clot passed through the heart without killing her . . . We thank God for yet another miracle!"

(Mr. Lindholm later said the doctors didn't actually say "three minutes," but they did expect to lose her within "a few minutes.")

Family support

Mrs. Lindholm's family was quick to offer help to her husband and the children.

Her sister, Donna Gjesvold, and Donna's husband, Todd, took the older three children to their home in nearby St. Michael, Minn., for the first couple of nights while Mr. Lindholm remained at the hospital.

Since Mrs. Gjesvold was already nursing her 4-month-old child, she also, as of this writing, is providing breast milk for the newborn.

Two of Mrs. Lindholm's sisters, both from the Dallas, Texas, area, had scheduled trips to visit the Lindholms before the medical emergency. Wanda Bradford arrived on Wednesday, Dec. 25, and Linda Zavocki arrived Saturday, Dec. 28.

By Monday, Dec. 30, Mrs. Lindholm's parents, Leon and Caroline Frick of Lexington, S.C., and her other siblings flew into town. They are Glen and Cindy Frick of Pomaria, S.C., Mark and Wendi Frick of Gilbert, S.C., and Janet Smith of Sacramento, Calif.

Family members went to the ICU to see Mrs. Lindholm and offer their prayers on her behalf. Later Mrs. Lindholm remembered how glad she was to see her family.

"One of my first memories was seeing my sisters at my bedside," she said.

"I feel like I witnessed a resurrection," said Mrs. Gjesvold.

Mrs. Lindholm's father and two brothers returned home after seeing her condition improve but before she came out of sedation.

Waking up

Since early January Mrs. Lindholm has continued to improve. She still has her ups and downs, which have included a yeast infection in her lungs and other infections and a football-sized hematoma (gradually dissolving) in her abdomen.

She underwent one more surgery, to remove a gauze-and-sponge pack from her abdomen that had helped control her earlier internal bleeding.

At that point doctors did not know if any of the smaller clots passed through a hole in her heart (a congenital defect) and into her brain, or if there were any degree of brain damage from two episodes of diminished oxygen to the brain.

By Thursday, Jan. 9, from all appearances, Mrs. Lindholm's hemorrhaging had stopped.

By Friday, Jan. 10, she was awake again, but not responding to people who talked to her. The effects of the sedation had not worn completely off.

By Sunday, Jan. 12, nurses had Mrs. Lindholm sitting up for short periods in a chair.

"She did tire rather quickly, but it's a start!" reported Mrs. Fehr. "She is responding to 'yes' and 'no,' but still cannot move her arms and legs on command."

By Monday, Jan. 13, she was noticeably gaining strength. She was able to squeeze her husband's hand and could tell right from left.

Visiting Mom

On Tuesday, Jan. 14, Mr. Lindholm brought Andrew, 9, Chantal, 7, Hannah, 4, and the new baby to the hospital to see their mother.

Mrs. Lindholm "smiled and showed emotion," reported Mrs. Fehr. "Tim held the baby up close to Hope so she could see her and he said that she started to cry a little."

Then, said Mrs. Fehr, "doctors, nurses and staff crowded her bedside . . . and it was very emotional. Hope has become well known at the hospital, and . . . the staff is very encouraged by her progress."

By Tuesday, Jan. 14, Mrs. Lindholm could receive visitors again.

"The doctors said that she displayed some complex thinking today and they are encouraged," reported Mrs. Fehr. "One of the doctors told Tim, 'Someone's looking out for you' and 'this is a miracle.'"

By Saturday, Jan. 18, her doctors began weaning Mrs. Lindholm from her ventilator. She was breathing on her own.

Explaining to Hope

On that day Mr. Lindholm explained to his wife a little about what she had been through.

Mrs. Lindholm at that point could only whisper because of a tracheotomy she had earlier undergone for the insertion through her neck of a breathing tube.

Mrs. Fehr reported that Mr. Lindholm's description of what his wife had been through "amazed" her.

Doctors and nurses continually expressed their wonderment as well, said Mrs. Fehr, because of Mrs. Lindholm's continued dramatic improvement.

By Sunday, Jan. 19, Mr. and Mrs. Lindholm had decided that one of the baby's names would be Hope, but they hadn't decided yet what her full name would be.

Out of ICU

On Jan. 22, a Wednesday, Mrs. Lindholm walked from the ICU to the waiting room and sat for a while, then walked back. Later that day she left intensive care and moved into a regular hospital room.

On Thursday, Jan. 23, an assistant to Mrs. Lindholm's anesthesiologist visited her and said he had performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on her to revive her when her heart had stopped during the C-section.

He said Mrs. Lindholm's survival after her cardiac arrest was a "medical miracle."

Dr. Back Hong, the head anesthesiologist, visited Mrs. Lindholm and told her that she had had only a slim chance of surviving the blood clot. He said he was "honored" to have been part of the team that worked with her.

Another physician on the team, Dr. Janet Bellingham, visited Mrs. Lindholm and said, "We just did what we normally do and someone intervened."

Dr. Bellingham also said she was "honored to have been part of the team to have worked with you."

Dr. John Cumming, the head staff doctor said, "No one expected this outcome . . . This is an amazing story."

On Friday, Jan. 24, Mrs. Lindholm began physical-therapy sessions, including speech exercises.

"She was a little discouraged," reported Mrs. Fehr, "but overall it was good."

On Saturday, Jan. 25, Mrs. Fehr reported that Mrs. Lindholm "continues to get a little stronger each day."

Power of prayer

A visitor during Mrs. Lindholm's convalescence, while she was still in serious condition in the hospital, was Dave Havir, pastor of the Church of God Big Sandy (Texas).

Mr. Havir had been taken with the number of medical personnel who mentioned that something miraculous had happened in their midst.

So, as he talked with doctors, nurses and other personnel, he wrote their comments down.

Mr. Havir heard Nancy Smith, a registered nurse, say Mrs. Lindholm "is a true miracle." Nurse Smith explained that 80 percent of the birth-laboring women who suffer an amniotic-fluid embolism die within an hour.

Jeanne Bates, an RN in the labor-and-delivery unit, told Mr. Havir she had witnessed Mrs. Lindholm's heart stop beating "for a couple of minutes." Of Mrs. Lindholm's subsequent recovery Ms. Bates said: "It is a miracle. There were a lot of prayers being said for her. God brought her back for her kids."

An unidentified RN told Mr. Havir: "A person has a better chance of winning the lottery" than recovering from Mrs. Lindholm's health problems.

Another unidentified nurse told Mr. Havir about an inspiring story that had recently been featured on a local television newscast, but then said that "our miracle here is a more amazing story."

Nan Stevenson, a hospital chaplain, told Mr. Havir while both of them stood at Mrs. Lindholm's bedside: "Miracles still happen. Hope's recovery is the result of the power of love and the power of prayer."

Mrs. Stevenson then turned to Mrs. Lindholm and said: "Miracle No. 1 was that you opened your eyes. Miracle No. 2 was that you know your family."

She continued: "Prayers are still going on. How this turned out has been an inspiration to the whole staff."

Blessing a little child

While Mrs. Lindholm still lay in the hospital, the Lindholms asked Mr. Havir to perform the "blessing of little children" for the then 22-day-old baby girl.

"So in a private ceremony in the ICU," said Mr. Havir, "I asked God to bless the baby. I normally recommend that parents and grandparents bless their own children, but I always consider it an honor when friends ask me to approach God's throne requesting a blessing from our loving Father. You can't ask God too often to bless a child."

On Jan. 28 Mrs. Fehr sent an E-mail to The Journal.

"One thing that has really been inspiring in this story," she wrote, "is to know that so many people, from so many different churches, different faiths, different backgrounds have come together to fast and pray for Hope, and God has heard 'their prayers'!

"In other words, I don't believe God only listened to the prayers of just certain church groups. He heard all of our prayers!"

On Jan. 29 Mrs. Lindholm--who received a total of more than 100 units of blood during her ordeal (a unit is 500 milliliters, a little more than a pint)--came home from the hospital. A healthy person's circulatory system holds seven to eight units of blood.

Network of support

Mr. Lindholm expressed his and his children's appreciation for the network of support for them while his wife was still sedated.

"So many people helped our family during the early weeks, which were the toughest moments of the trial."

Although Mr. Lindholm said the list of people who helped was so long he could not mention everyone, he did talk about a few.

"Steve and Kim Thull [of Zimmerman, Minn.] spent a lot of time with us helping with housecleaning, shopping and baby-sitting," he said. "Our children regularly spend a lot of time with their four sons [Christopher, 13, Cameron, 11, Austin, 5, and Dylan, 3], so it was good for our children for them to be around during this stressful time."

He also said he was thankful for Michele Scholten of Champlin, Minn., coordinating the home-schooling of the Lindholm children Andrew and Chantal while teaching her own children, Joshua, 8, and Jacob, 5.

"This kept the children in a normal routine and did not allow them to get far behind in their schoolwork," he said.

Mr. Lindholm also mentioned his appreciation for the food that friends steadily brought to the house, coordinated by Angie Arnold Eisenschenk of Elk River, Minn.

"Many people brought food, but some of the groups helped us tremendously," he said. "My family appreciated the volume of food that was graciously given to us by members of the United congregations in Minneapolis and St. Paul."

God can heal

Mr. Lindholm said he had faith that God could heal his wife, "but the hard part was not knowing if He would."

"I knew that in the condition Hope was in it would take a miracle to keep her alive, let alone to live and be whole. I thank God with my whole heart that He healed and saved my wife for me and the children."

Mr. Lindholm said he had hoped and prayed for the best, but he had told his children that "God may or may not save their mom.

"I told them that it doesn't mean that He doesn't love you, love Mom or love me if He chooses not to save her. No matter what, God will take care of us."

He also asked his children: "Please pray for Mom and ask Him to heal her because God hears the prayers of His little children."

Nine-year-old Andrew said he had only three words to say about the Lindholm family's experience: "It was tough."

But he decided then to say a few more words: "I would be mad at God if He let Mom die. I wouldn't hate Him, but I would sure be mad. I'm really thankful God let her live."

Seven-year-old Chantal said the whole experience for her was "scary," and she is "really glad God let Mom live." Chantal also wanted to go on record as saying, "I really love my baby sister."

Words from Hope

Mrs. Lindholm shared some thoughts about the parts of the experience that she could remember. First she described her first memory of her husband as she came out of the sedation.

"I remember Tim holding my hand and talking to me about our new baby girl," she said. "I don't remember the day she was born. I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn't talk to him. I remember wondering what had happened and why I was in the hospital."

She recalled her children coming to see her.

"I remember feeling tremendous joy when Tim brought the children in to see me," she said.

After the family returned home, Mr. Lindholm played a cassette tape for his wife that he and the children had made at home while their mother lay comatose.

"They talked to me about our new baby and how they missed me and loved me," Mrs. Lindholm said. "Tim counted to 3 and they chimed in unison, 'We love Mommy! We love Mommy! We love Mommy!' "

The tape helped Mrs. Lindholm recall hidden memories of her hospital stay.

"When I heard the tape at home, I broke down in tears because I recognized the recording even though it had only been played to me a few times while I was in a coma. It was a very moving and emotional experience."

Mrs. Lindholm expressed the appreciation for the way her husband dealt with her doctors.

"Tim and I are best friends," she said. "We rarely make decisions without consulting each other. Therefore he is the best person to make decisions that I couldn't make. I feel very fortunate to have an advocate like Tim to look after me when I couldn't look after myself."

Mrs. Lindholm also expressed her appreciation for the efforts that friends made on behalf of her and her family.

"We appreciate all the acts of kindness that people showed to our family," she said. "I especially appreciate the prayers."

Mrs. Lindholm also expressed her appreciation about the power and love of God.

"I am so thankful that God heard the prayers of my husband, my family, my friends and many others who heard about the situation," she said. "God is truly a loving and merciful God who brought me through this."

Tim, Hope, Andrew, Chantal, Hannah and baby-girl Lindholm receive mail at 8703 Greenhaven Dr., Brooklyn Park, Minn. 55445, U.S.A., and .

This issue of The Journal includes many photos and several other graphics, besides the Connections advertising section. Don't forget to subscribe to the print version of The Journal to read all the news and features previewed here.

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