RICHLAND -- The miracle of life had a brush with death this week at Kadlec Regional Medical Center when a Richland woman had to have an emergency cesarean section immediately followed by open heart surgery.
Doctors discovered that 31-year-old Ulyana Kuzmycz, who was 35 weeks pregnant, had an aortic dissection, a tear in the inner wall of her aorta that caused blood to flow between the layers, forcing them apart.
The inherited condition is normally an easy fix, said Dr. Hannan Chaugle, a Richland heart surgeon. But when the patient is pregnant, the situation can become life threatening to the mother and child.
Cardiologist Dr. Fadi Alqusi discovered Kuzmycz's condition Monday morning during a routine visit because the mother-to-be had been having chest pains for a couple weeks.
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The couple were aware heart problems ran in her family so they weren't taken completely by surprise by the news.
"We were monitoring the possibility of this condition," Kuzmycz said. "But I was feeling so good through most of my pregnancy that we let our guard down."
But on Sept. 25 everything changed.
"Ulyana was having a splendid pregnancy, not even any nausea," said her husband Daniel. "Then she started to feel chest pains in her eighth month, and to be on the safe side she began making regular visits to see Dr. Alqusi."
Within an hour of Alqusi's diagnosis Monday, Kuzmycz was admitted to Kadlec while a team of six doctors brainstormed how best to proceed. That team also included neotalologists Anthony Hadeed and Miriam Zaragoza, and obstetricians Dr. Kevin Turner and Dr. Kenton Sizemore.
"We needed to save the mom and the baby," Chaugle said. So the C-section was performed first and 6-pound baby Nina was born, 19.5 inches long, five weeks premature, but otherwise healthy.
Immediately following the birth of her first child, Ulyana Kuzmycz was rushed into an operating room for a seven-hour open heart procedure where Chaugle repaired the aorta.
But the drama didn't end there.
About 12 hours after the surgery Ulyana's chest had to be reopened to fix an internal bleeding problem, Daniel Kuzmycz said.
"This was a very risky procedure and everything seems to be OK now. But it wouldn't have been without this fantastic cardiac unit here at Kadlec. They saved my wife and our baby."
Ulyana's mother, Valentina Kurylin from Toronto, a Ukrainian immigrant, also praised the medical team that helped her daughter. "You saved my daughter's life and I am so grateful," she told the heart surgeon.
To which Chaugle responded, "I just performed the procedure. It was God who really saved her life."
The Kuzmyczes were just settling into the Tri-Cities after moving from San Diego about a month ago so Daniel Kuzmycz could work for Pacific Northwest National Laboratories as a psychologist.
Ulyana Kuzmycz's recovery has been amazing, said Kay Langevin, Kadlec's cardiac rehab nurse.
"After all she's been through when she holds her baby while nursing she just glows," Langevin said.
Ulyana Kuzmycz is hopeful she and her new baby will be able to go home next week. For now, baby Nina remains under the watchful eyes of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurses.