Carly Iddings is blessed. In 2017, she and her husband, Kyle, became parents of little Ethan. But her happy story could have ended very differently if it wasn’t for the exceptional maternal and critical care she received from the team at Novant Health WomanCare and Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem.

Iddings was at a routine prenatal monitoring visit at the clinic when she started having trouble breathing.

“It came on suddenly,” Iddings said. “I started getting hot and couldn’t breathe.”

A nurse noticed that Iddings’ oxygen levels were abnormally low. The situation was so concerning that medics were immediately called to transport Iddings to the emergency room where she could be stabilized.

“Carly Iddings had a severe form of preeclampsia that had caused pulmonary edema,” said Dr. Jaleema Speaks, one of Iddings’ og-gyn's. Pulmonary edema is a condition in which the lungs fill up with fluid so the body struggles to get enough oxygen.   

“In pregnancy, women often experience shortness of breath, but pulmonary edema has rapid onset,” Speaks said.

Preeclampsia in pregnancy is a fairly common condition, Speaks explained. In the practice, she said about 20 percent of patients experience it. Symptoms include high blood pressure, swelling of the hands and feet and protein in the urine.

Protein in the urine can be a sign of preeclampsia. Normally, proteins are confined to the blood stream by a filtering process provided by one’s kidneys, but with preeclampsia, proteins such as albumin will spill into the urine stream.

Another common symptom with preeclampsia is high blood pressure. Iddings had protein in her urine but did not have high blood pressure.

If left untreated, preeclampsia can be very dangerous. It can raise blood pressure and raise the risk of brain injury. It can also affect normal kidney and liver function and cause blood clots and pulmonary edema. In some instances, it can lead to the death of the mother and baby.

At the emergency room, Iddings was stabilized and her oxygen levels were brought back to normal. But after consulting with other maternal fetal medicine colleagues, Speaks said it was decided that the baby needed to be delivered.

Because of her medical condition, the labor and delivery team decided that inducing the baby might be risky. Instead, they decided to deliver by cesarean section that night.   

Kyle Iddings was in the operating room when the baby was delivered. “When I first heard Ethan cry, it was a very overwhelming feeling,” he said. “I was happy, scared, excited, nervous and grateful, the whole range of emotions and an indescribable feeling of joy. I was grateful that Ethan was healthy, although he was never in distress, you still think about all the ‘what ifs,’ and hearing him cry was so relieving. I think I was a blubbering idiot.”

Following the delivery, Carly and Ethan remained in the hospital. Two days into the stay, Iddings had another breathing episode. “I had just fed Ethan and put him in the bassinet for him to get a nap when Carly came out of the bathroom and couldn't breathe,” Iddings said. “I called the nurse and then everyone rushed in the room. I didn't really know what to think or do but they had the blood oxygen machine in front of her and she was watching her levels drop so fast, I think she was panicking more so I just couldn't let her see the monitor anymore.” 

This time the pulmonary edema required a more aggressive intervention to get the fluid out of her lungs and Iddings was intubated. “I was in a drug-induced coma for six days as they removed 55 pounds of fluid out of my lungs,” Iddings said.

It was touch and go for Carly during that time as her husband stood by helplessly.

“I actually had no idea how bad everything was until an ICU doctor sat me down and told me to prepare for the worst,” he said. “I don't think I slept for days and all I could do was look at my son, who barely knew me and had very little time with his mom, and then watch my wife lying there and not know who I am without her. I felt like I couldn't do anything to help either of them. How do you tell a newborn that his mom was dying?” 

The critical care team helped the couple to pull through their ordeal. “All of the care we received was incredible,” Kyle said. “All of the nurses and doctors were great. Dr. David DeFeo , the pulmonary specialist, stands out a great deal because he… sat me down and said that everything was going to be OK and that he could fix her."

“I don't know if he was just being kind because I was losing it, but it gave me hope. Dr. Speaks also stands out because she was there from beginning to end. She had an amazing personality and made me feel at ease and that she was going to fight just as hard as Carly to get us all through this safely.”

Carly doesn’t remember much from that time, but she said she now feels great. She’s had no post-partum depression and adds that it might be a good thing she doesn’t remember anything. “I thank God I’m healthy and that Ethan is healthy, too.”   

Childbirth is unpredictable — but thinking through your preferences ahead of time can make you feel more confident the day of. Download our birth preparation guide.