Pain and joy: Man loses wife during childbirth; baby survives

Published: Sunday, September 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 31, 2013 at 9:15 p.m.

Shane Napier calls his 3-week-old son, Zander, his miracle baby.

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Shane Napier holds his newborn son, Zander, in his home on Tuesday, August 27, 2013 in Starke, Fla. Napier's wife, Dana, died while in labor with Zander.

Matt Stamey/The Sun

Zander was delivered from his mother Dana's womb just minutes after her water broke.

But when Zander came out, Dana was already slipping away.

“She never got to see him; she never got to hold him,” Shane said at the countryside Starke home that he shared with his wife, where wedding pictures adorn the walls, along with a plaque that reads: Home is where your story begins.

“I'm still in that numb stage. I picked up her ashes, and when they put the urn in my hand, my stomach just dropped,” Shane said.

Dana Napier was 36 years old when she died. Her only child was delivered by peri-mortem C-section, a rare procedure in which a baby is delivered when the mother is dying or dead.

“That's all she wanted was a baby,” Shane said, adding that they had tried for two years, using fertility drugs, when Dana finally became pregnant.

They found out on New Year's Day.

“She was feeling sick, so she took a pregnancy test, and it was lying on the counter when I got home. It said positive. She was on the bed crying (tears of joy),” Shane said.

A difficult pregnancy

Dana had a difficult pregnancy. She had high blood pressure going into it and, within four months, was diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

“She was a little overweight. We loved to eat, but we changed our eating, and she was checking her sugar,” Shane said.

But high blood pressure was a constant battle. At one point her blood pressure was 188 over 140, Shane recalled. Blood pressure above 180 over 110 is considered dangerous.

Dana was hospitalized with high blood pressure at UF Health Shands Hospital 10 days before she delivered Zander.

“They put her on so much blood pressure medication, but at night it would spike up again,” Shane said. If it didn't go down, the doctors said they would induce labor, Shane said.

The afternoon of Aug. 9, Dana's cervix was dilated to about 5 centimeters. The next morning, Dana was asleep when Shane walked into her room.

Then, “Zander kicked her and her water broke,” Shane recalled. “She started pulling on her collar and saying, 'I can't breathe,' ” and she said it a couple of times before she went into a seizure.

At that point, Shane was asked to leave the room. Within minutes, he heard someone say, “The baby's out. The baby's out.”

“And I heard him cry,” Shane said.

Then Shane was escorted to an empty room down the hall and told to wait. A doctor came in and told him they were still working on Dana.

“I could see in her face that Dana wasn't coming back,” Shane said.

When Dana's mother and sister got to the hospital, the doctors told everyone that Dana hadn't survived. The doctors said they had tried for 75 minutes to revive her.

Shane is awaiting an autopsy report, but the cause of death is believed to be an amniotic fluid embolism, a rare emergency condition in which amniotic fluid enters the mother's bloodstream, triggering an allergic reaction that can be fatal.

The condition is unpredictable and sudden. According to Dr. Anthony Gregg, an OB-GYN and chief of maternal-fetal medicine at UF Health Shands Hospital, amniotic fluid embolisms account for just 7 percent of all maternal deaths in Florida — only about 5 deaths per 213,000 births per year.

“There isn't one thing that's going to help us identify which of these five patients is going to expire,” he said, adding that “maternal death is the most horrible thing that happens in medicine today. The expectations are 180 degrees different than the outcome.”

Zander stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit for a couple of weeks, learning to bottle feed. He was on a respirator for half a day, his dad said.

“The nurse in the NICU said that she'd never seen a baby in the NICU smile so much, and he actually laughed,” Shane said.

“That's his mama in him,” said Michelle Curtis, a close family friend who last week was helping take care of Zander.

Curtis recalled learning on Facebook that Dana had passed away.

“The last message I had seen was that she was at 5 centimeters,” Curtis said. Then she heard nothing for several hours but said she figured the couple were focused on their new baby.

The next morning, “We were all waiting to see beautiful pictures of Zander and Dana. When I saw that Dana was gone, I literally dropped my iPad and started screaming,” Curtis said.

Raising an infant alone

Shane has two teenage children from a previous marriage, so he's changed diapers and dealt with babies' feeding schedules before. But sometimes while taking care of Zander, all Shane can think about is the fact that his wife won't get to take care of her own son.

“I tell him about his mom every day,” Shane said. “She traveled. She went skydiving. A few days ago, I found her notebook with a bucket list, and she'd done every single thing on it,” from skydiving to traveling all over the country from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas to New York City and California.

Dana was a go-getter who had worked several jobs, including a corporate job and a communications job at the United Way in Gainesville. She also had started her own online jewelry company.

Dana collected the fortunes from her fortune cookie wrappers, and Shane found one the other day.

“It said, 'When one door closes, another one opens,' ” he said. “I just started crying.”

While Dana was in the hospital, she had an idea of setting up a donation fund for Zander, to cover extra expenses. She was selling real estate, and Shane is unemployed.

Today the fund has reached nearly $20,000. The donation fund is under the name Kevin Napier (Kevin is Napier's actual first name but he goes by Shane) at the website.

Shane said he still is getting packages filled with baby clothes and greeting cards from people around the country. With some of the money, he said he intends to start a foundation for amniotic embolism awareness in Dana's name.

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