Getting HELLP: One Woman’s Story About the Rare, Life-Threatening Syndrome
After a relatively easy pregnancy and delivery four years ago, Fox 4 Good Day Anchor Lauren Przybyl naturally expected the same experience when she found out she was pregnant with her son. Little did Przybyl know, an extremely rare form of preeclampsia would make her road to delivery and recovery much different than the first time.
At 33 weeks, Przybyl arrived at Texas Health Dallas for a regular prenatal checkup, except something irregular popped up: her blood pressure was abnormally high. She was immediately admitted for blood work and thought a few days rest would get her back on track, and at first, it did. After two nights at the hospital her blood pressure, liver enzyme and platelet numbers were back to normal, and after a few steroid shots to help her baby’s lungs develop in the event of an early delivery, she went home.
Two nights later she woke up with a horrible pain in her neck, shoulders and upper back.
“I could barely turn my head,” Przybyl said. “My husband checked my blood pressure, which we had been checking frequently, and it was twice what it should have been.”
Przybyl knew something wasn’t right, but she didn’t know that soon after arriving back at the hospital she would be diagnosed with HELLP Syndrome.
According to The Preeclampsia Foundation, HELLP Syndrome is a life-threatening complication of high blood pressure during pregnancy. The syndrome is named after its characteristics:
H — Hemolysis, or the breakdown of red blood cells
EL — Elevated liver enzymes
LP — Low platelet count
Hampton Richards, M.D., an OB-GYN on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas, explained to Przybyl that the syndrome was causing her liver to bleed, and the only way they could save her life was to deliver her son prematurely.
“Dr. Richards super-calmly explained that he didn’t think I could make it through labor and that I needed to have an emergency C-section,” Przybyl said. “Then it hit me. This was serious — I could die. All I could think about was the little blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl who was waiting at home for me. The one who, for months, had been asking when her baby brother would ‘pop out’? The little girl who was my world. For the first time in my life, I realized it could all be taken away in a second.”
Thirty minutes later, Przybyl and her husband welcomed their little boy into the world.
“‘Nice sounding lungs for a 34-weeker,’ they all said. I got to kiss his face and off he went to the NICU.”
The Long Road to Recovery
Przybyl said at that moment she had no clue how difficult her road to recovery would be. Her blood pressure numbers were high one moment and low the next, and she was too weak to see her son in the NICU. It took her three days to become strong enough to hold him.
Przybyl credits the Peek-A-Boo NICU cameras, a gift to the hospital, for helping her get through the first few days before she could meet her son. These cameras allow anyone with a patient-specific password to log into a secure website to view their newest family member.
“I was only two floors above my little guy in the NICU, but I felt like I was half a world away,” she said. “These cameras allowed me, while stuck in bed, to watch (or stare at) my little one. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, depressed by all that was happening, and logging on. One look at our son’s sweet sleeping face put me at ease.”
Przybyl said she and her husband are deeply thankful for the care they received at Texas Health Dallas.
“From the doctors, to the nurses, to the cleaning staff, to those who deliver food to the rooms — so many were so nice,” she said. “It was a nurse (Tanya) who took the priceless photos of my son’s birth — she also held my hand through some of the toughest moments when my husband was with our son right after his birth.”
Przybyl recently returned to the hospital to thank a certain special nurse, Irva Rubin, who greatly impacted her experience during her weeklong stay.
“I wanted her to know how much I appreciated her during those tough times,” She said. “She helped show me how to fluff my pillows to make the bed comfortable. She showed me an easier way to get in and out of the bed that didn’t hurt where my incision was. She also gave me a big hug during a moment when I really needed one.
“While at Texas Health Dallas, I realized nurses usually come into our lives as strangers during some of our toughest moments. They care for us, help make us better and then we head home. They rarely get the ‘thank you’ they so deserve!”
Learning the Symptoms
HELLP can be difficult to diagnose and treat, with a global mortality rate as high as 25 percent.
“I had never heard of HELLP until I was diagnosed with it, but my case was atypical,” Przybyl said. “Most women who experience HELLP develop it with their first pregnancy. I did not. In fact, I didn’t even have signs of preeclampsia during my first pregnancy.
“Also, most women first develop preeclampsia then slowly move to HELLP. I did not. I went from having what doctors considered a healthy pregnancy to having an emergency C-section.”
Przybyl’s advice for expecting mothers is to know what preeclampsia is and what the symptoms are, then learn about HELLP, and to, above all, trust your instinct.
“If you think something isn’t right, say something — and keep saying something,” she said. “I have now met many women who were told their symptoms were just normal pregnancy symptoms, but instead it turned out to be HELLP.”
Texas Health is your baby resource. Visit TexasHealth.org/women to find a physician near you.