When one mom gave birth to a healthy baby boy, she couldn’t have been happier. However, her joy soon turned to despair when doctors saw her placenta. It was in such a state, in fact, that the medical team made the bold move to leave it inside her.
That mom was Kristen Terlizzi, who lives in Los Gatos in California. She resides there with her husband Jeff, whom she married in October 2010. And four years after their wedding, the couple received some good news – namely, that they were expecting their second baby together.
At first, Terlizzi’s pregnancy went smoothly; at the beginning of her third trimester, however, the situation became substantially more perilous. “Around 28 weeks in pregnancy, my ultrasound images started looking suspicious,” Terlizzi revealed in an interview with Stanford Health Care.
At that time, when they examined the expectant mom, doctors couldn’t find any separation between her placenta, her uterus and her bladder. Terlizzi was subsequently diagnosed with placenta percreta – a more severe form of placenta accreta – and the condition could have devastating consequences for her.
During a regular pregnancy, the placenta grows within the uterus. It then connects to the uterine wall, before the body flushes it out after a woman gives birth. However, if the mom has placenta accreta, it’s not that simple.
That’s because the condition causes the placenta to grow rapidly and in an uncontrollable manner. As a result, the placenta embeds into the uterine wall, which means that doctors must manually detach it following the birth. However, this in turn often leads to hemorrhaging.
Sixty years ago, though, cases of accreta were extremely uncommon. Indeed, in the 1950s just one in every 30,000 births in the United States was affected by the condition. Today, however, it is much less rare, occurring in one in 500 deliveries in the U.S.
One reason for this is the prevalence of cesarean sections today. Women who have had C-sections in the past often have scars on their uterus; the new placenta can then bond deeply to this scar tissue, resulting in accreta. And Terlizzi herself had given birth to her first son via cesarean section.
In some cases, moreover, the hemorrhaging caused by accreta can be deadly. In fact, in the United States one in every 14 women with accreta will die. So, needless to say, Terlizzi’s diagnosis was terrifying for her.
And given the seriousness of her condition, Terlizzi had to give birth at 33 weeks. So, in July 2014, a team of 30 medical professionals at Stanford Hospital helped deliver her second son, Leo. Thankfully, the little baby was perfectly healthy. It was only after Terlizzi had given birth in fact, that doctors then made a horrifying discovery.
The medical experts already knew that Terlizzi’s case of accreta was an especially severe case called percreta. In these instances, the placenta grows right through the uterine wall and can invade nearby internal organs. But when doctors came to assess Terlizzi’s placenta, the situation was far worse than they expected.
That was because Terlizzi’s placenta had grown far beyond any comprehension. And as the surgeons examined the scale of the tissue’s expansion, they pondered how they were ever going to get it out without serious damage to the new mom. In the end, though, they made a seemingly unlikely decision: they decided to leave Terlizzi’s placenta inside her.
“They stopped and closed me up with the entire placenta untouched, still inside my body,” Terlizzi revealed. “They were worried I would get an infection, that I would started spontaneously hemorrhaging. But there was also this thought that maybe the body would start to reabsorb the placenta.”
So, for all intents and purposes, Terlizzi was pretty much a medical experiment. “I felt like a time bomb waiting to explode,” she admitted. And to make matters worse, after three days, the mom still hadn’t met her precious little baby.
As a result, her doctors pulled some strings and arranged a special midnight visit. Looking back on the special occasion, Terlizzi admitted that it gave her a massive morale boost. “I had something that I needed to get better for and to get back to,” she explained.
But things got worse before they got better as, after six weeks in the hospital, bruises began to appear all over Terlizzi’s body. The signs, naturally, weren’t good. And a scan later revealed something alarming: Telizzi was, in fact, approaching serious liver failure.
It was then that surgeons decided to operate. So, in an epic eight-hour procedure, they removed her placenta and some unnecessary organs and repaired the damage to other critical ones. During this time, Terlizzi needed 26 units of blood to stabilize her.
For a while, moreover, it was touch and go whether the mom-of-two would make it. Happily, however, she went on to make a full recovery. Now, she’s forever thankful for the expert care those at Stanford Health Care gave her and her baby.
“You’d never even know that Leo was a ‘premy,’” the proud mom gushed. “He’s a feisty and determined one-year-old. And we’re pretty convinced that my mutant placenta gave him some X-Men powers.”
Thankfully, then, Terlizzi can continue with her life and enjoy every moment spent with her family. As a way of displaying her gratitude, in fact, she now volunteers at Stanford Hospital. And thanks to her doctors’ expertise, she’ll now get to see her children grow up.