Cali Hinckley’s diagnoses from her June 2012 hospital stay reads like a full season of “House.”
Suspected amniotic fluid embolism.
Total abdominal hysterectomy.
Septic ovarian vein thrombosis.
“Most of the time, we see these diagnoses on a death note,” said Amanda Lawrence, an adult/pediatric flight nurse for AirMed who helped rush Hinckley to the University of Utah hospital that day. “These are not things we see on a patient who is discharged.”
Hinckley, 20 weeks pregnant with her third child, had suffered a placental abruption and amniotic fluid embolism. But because of fast thinking by two Tooele County dispatchers, and the quick response by emergency medical technicians, she survived against nearly insurmountable odds.
On June 10 of that year, Hinckley, then 23, took a nap after church. She awoke a little later and called her husband, Josh, who was in a different part of the house, and told him she was having difficulty breathing. He called 911 and explained his wife’s condition to dispatcher Courtney Soffel.
Soffel eventually told Josh to begin performing CPR until help could arrive.
“I want you to start doing some compressions, OK?” Soffel instructs in the 911 recording. “I want you to pump her chest hard and fast, at least twice per second, OK? We’re just going to keep doing it until somebody’s there to take over.”
Meanwhile, another dispatcher, Yvonne Gale, ordered an AirMed helicopter to leave right away, instead of staging to be ready to leave when more information was relayed about the patient’s condition.
Windi Bray, a high-risk OB flight nurse, said when she and Lawrence arrived at the Hinckley home, she saw several hints of trouble.
“Her tummy was hard as a board, which is a tell-tale sign of an abruption,” she said. “I’ve been an OB nurse for a long time, and I’ve never seen anything like this. You could just see her belly rising — the blanket kept going up — so there was some internal bleeding happening.”
A placental abruption occurs when the placenta tears away from the uterine wall, causing internal bleeding and allowing amniotic fluid into the mother’s bloodstream. An amniotic fluid embolism occurs when amniotic fluid collects and causes a blockage in the brain.
Hinckley was attended to by emergency room doctors at the University of Utah, where Lawrence said medical staff found she had lost 1.5 liters of blood to internal bleeding. She was operated on the following day, where she suffered complications and lost another 1.5 liters of blood.
Despite a host of further complications, including septic ovarian thrombosis, Hinckley was transferred out of the intensive care unit on June 13, and released from the hospital on June 21. She would later return to the hospital with blood clots in her arms and legs.
Hinckley had been diagnosed with Heterozygous Factor V, a genetic clotting disorder, after a difficult pregnancy in 2008. Despite losing the baby from that pregnancy, she delivered a healthy baby girl in 2009. The baby boy from this third pregnancy was due Oct. 11, but died during the incident.
Amniotic fluid embolism most often occurs when a mother is delivering birth, Lawrence said. Only four cases of the condition occurring at home and not during delivery, including Hinckley’s, have been recorded in the nation.
When it happens in the hospital, 90 percent of patients die, and 85 percent of the survivors have permanent neurological damage, Lawrence said. All of the other known cases of the condition occurring at home were fatal.
Lawrence said she feels those two things — instructing CPR and telling the helicopter to come immediately — saved Hinckley’s life.
“This is a situation where minutes made the difference,” said Lawrence. “I do believe personally that her outcome would have been different.”
At a ceremony Wednesday, Hinckley, Josh, their daughter and their son, adopted one year after the incident, met the dispatchers who had helped them through the first crucial moments of the emergency. Both dispatchers and family members wiped away tears as they relived the day that almost took Hinckley’s life.
Lawrence and Bray presented Soffel, Gale, Tooele County Dispatch Lt. Regina Nelson and Sgt. Shannon Gowans with a copy of Air Rescue Magazine, a Germany-based trade publication, which wrote about Hinckley’s case after hearing about the improbable and fortunate series of events. Lawrence said Hinckley’s case had also been presented at one conference and was going to be discussed at another later this year.
Gale and Soffel were also presented with a meritorious award from the International Academy of Emergency Dispatch.
Lawrence said while dispatchers often stay behind the scenes, their role is critical, especially in situations like on that Sunday afternoon.
“One thing we really want to drive home is that we’re a very visible part of the EMS world,” she said. “People see the helicopters and we get a lot of publicity for that. But we are a very small part of such a huge team, and none of that could have happened — without that, this family would not be here today.”
She added, “Every single thing that happened that day had to happen the way it did. You guys from dispatch — I have no words. We really want to thank you for what you did. You helped us get there fast so we could get her to the emergency room fast.”