Dr. Les Moats shouldn’t have been there on Feb. 13, 2018. He rarely works shifts at Memorial North. Tuesdays are normally a day off. Plus, he isn’t usually supposed to respond to code calls in the rest of the hospital. Something that day compelled him to go, but he assumed it was probably to assist with a relatively routine breathing tube.
When he turned the corner into that operating room, he felt like he’d entered a movie scene when a bomb goes off. “The sound goes away, and voices are muffled,” he says. “I felt like 20 people were talking to me, and I couldn’t hear anything, other than to think about what she needed.”
Nicole Vaughn, a nurse herself, had previously delivered two healthy babies, and there had been no concerns with her third pregnancy. But her heart had arrested during this delivery. Jessica Bradigan, a highly skilled critical care nurse, was performing chest compressions, but Vaughn had no pulse. “You have to get this baby out now,” she said, handing Moats a scalpel.
As Moats tried to gauge the baby’s position, he felt it move. This baby still had a chance. “That’s what gave me the courage to do it,” Moats says.
He and Bradigan were able to remove the baby safely. Then Moats went into a bathroom and cried. He had nicked the baby’s armpit during the procedure. “I thought every time somebody asks him about that scar, it will be about how his mom died,” he says. “I gave her 0 percent chance of survival. I think we all did.”
But Vaughn began bleeding, and her pulse returned. While Moats returned to the ER, the team and reinforcements, including surgeon Dr. Keyan Riley, continued to work on her. After multiple blood and plasma transfusions, a later emergency hysterectomy and a couple days of heavy sedation, Vaughn woke asking about her baby. “That was the most horrific gender reveal party,” she says.
Of the 90,000 patients he’s seen during 20 years of emergency medicine, many in horrific circumstances, Moats says this was the scariest case because of its unexpected nature. “It wasn’t anything heroic—it was just one of those critical moments where you had to make a decision,” he says. “What was going through my head was, She would want him out. She’s a mom. She’d give her life to save him.”
“The whole team of doctors and nurses did a great job, but I feel like Dr. Moats played the most vital and important role,” Vaughn says. She and Moats agree that the experience has been a powerful encouragement and reminder of purpose in their medical careers.
“Our hard work still matters, and it saves lives,” Vaughn says. “He saved two lives that day that, and I will forever be thankful.”
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