PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - A Portland mother beat the odds when she went from an emergency C-section, to open-heart surgery and then to a third life-saving surgery, all within hours.
Lehela Lebag, a pharmacist just shy of 34 weeks pregnant, was at work back in November when she started having unusual chest pain.
“It was the type of chest pain that I just knew wasn’t right,” Lebag said.
Lebag was born with a congenital heart defect that had been monitored since she was a young child, but she’d never had a surgery or complications from the condition before. She went to the emergency room at Legacy Meridian to get checked out.
During her exam, the medical team noticed she was leaking amniotic fluid and was in the early stages of labor. She was transferred to Legacy Emanuel to deliver her premature son – all while it was unclear what might be causing her chest pain and whether it could be related to the labor.
“I kept telling them I still had those chest pains,” Lebag said.
An echocardiogram was ordered and the results were stunning.
“All of a sudden, a bunch of people came rushing in and saying, ‘Actually you’re not going to have a normal vaginal delivery – we’re going to do an emergency C-section, you have an aortic dissection. We’re going to have to do heart surgery as well,’” Lebag said.
Her son, Kaden, was delivered just after noon the day before Thanksgiving. Then, Lebag was rushed into the operating room for open-heart surgery to repair a tear to her aorta.
“It literally tore the whole artery off on the inside,” said Lebag’s heart surgeon, Dr. Alan Martin. “In the (operating room) it’s amazing to watch the nursing team deliver a baby, instantly turn over to open-heart mode and not drop a beat – it’s just perfect coordination.”
“It just felt like a dream,” Lebag said. “But yeah, I was pretty scared.”
Her husband, Kyle, was left to focus on their newborn son and hope for the best.
“I was trying to stay positive, because I didn’t know what the impacts were going to be of any of the surgeries that she would have to go through – and it’s like I want my wife and my son to be healthy,” Kyle Lebag said.
Martin said about 20 percent of people with the condition will die immediately. Left untreated, 80 percent will die within two weeks.
Then, there’s the risk of death on the operating table.
“It’s like trying to sew wet tissue paper together and sometimes you can’t win those scenarios,” Martin said.
Fortunately, the eight-hour surgery was successful, but then another problem cropped up: Legbag was experiencing heavy bleeding in her uterus that would require yet another surgery.
Her husband was with their son in the NICCU when he got the phone call.
“At that point, my heart just dropped,” Kyle Lebag said. “It was just back to prayers again and wishing and hoping my wife can pull through.”
Kyle wondered if he would end up raising Kaden by himself.
“At one point, I just remember kind of dragging my foot into the ground and telling myself, alright, you got to pick this up, because there could be a possibility where you’re doing this by yourself,” he said.
But Lehela is one tough mom. Once again, she pulled through. She woke up four days after she delivered Kaden.
“I first remember them saying, ‘Do you want to see your son?’ and that was probably the happiest I’ve ever been,” Lebag said.
Despite being about six weeks premature, Kaden needed little help after birth, except for regulating his body temperature, and a feeding tube to assist with the bottles he took.
He’s now at home and his mom is also recovering well.
“He’s wonderful,” Lebag said of her new son. “Of course, he keeps us up, but we love every moment of it. It’s just a blessing.”
“We keep falling back on the idea that Kaden is actually a hero, saved mama’s life,” Kyle Lebag added. “He was a beacon in the crazy storm, for me at least, and I know for her as well. We’re just going to love and cherish this kid so much. “
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