FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, NJ - Casey Cattell had a difficult pregnancy and delivery, dodging death not once, but twice.
Both times, her life and the life of her baby were saved by the quick action of emergency room doctors and staff, the first time at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital/Somerset and three months later at RWJUH/New Brunswick - just one week after giving birth to her son, Nathan.
Two summers ago, 24 weeks into her first pregnancy, Cattell was rushed to RWJUH Somerset where she was met by Dr. Marc Milano, chair, Department of Emergency Medicine. Milano quickly diagnosed her pulmonary ebolism and saved her life.
Nathan was born three months later, Oct. 4, 2015 at Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington - in between emergency room visits to Somerville and New Brunswick. His mother was in labor for 26 hours - without medication – until doctors performed a Caesarean section. He came into the world weighing 8 lbs., 8 oz.
One week later the 37-year-old mother was rushed to the ER at RWJUH/New Brunswick from her home in Somerset, suffering from internal bleeding because of a postpartum hemorrhage. She received over five liters of blood. She was released from the hospital after 11 days.
“Had the supply of blood not been there, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now,” she said.
"Since my near misses, my greatest hope is to be able to use my story in a positive way to help others," Cattell said.
A new chapter was added to her story on Tuesday when she returned to RWJUH/Somerset for a reunion at the Somerville hospital with Milano, who got to meet 15-month-old Nathan for the first time.
“She’d sent me pictures of Nathan, but this was the first time I could hold his hand, give him a kiss,” Milano said. “It was a very emotional experience for me.
“Casey must have said 5, 10 times ‘you saved my life and the life of my son,’ but I’m just going in there to do my job, what every doctor does every day, day in and day out,” Milano said. “This is not about glory or recognition, this is what we do.”
“I’m a two-time survivor,” Cattell said. “This has been one heck of a year.”
On Oct. 11, 2016, her self-proclaimed “survival anniversary,” Cattell visited RWJUH/Somerset to donate blood.
“I’m no stranger to donating blood,” Cattell said. She donated her first pint of blood when she was 17.
“It will definitely become more of a regular thing,” she said after her 90-minute meeting with Milano. Cattell also said that she hopes her story inspires others to give blood.
“My hemorrhage was in October, 2015; I had to wait 12 months before they’d allow me to donate blood, so, on my ‘survival anniversary,’ Oct. 11, I donated a pint of blood.
“it was very important for me to do it, and it had to be that day,” she explained. “I was able to give back a year after that blood was flowing from a bag to keep me alive, now it was my blood flowing into a bag to help someone else.”
Since then, she has donated blood two more times, and will do so again next month, and again in late April or early May. She has to wait a minimum of 56 days in between.
“Because her life was saved by a blood transfusion, she has become a reliable, faithful donor,” Milano said. "She is comfortable speaking about the impact and what it has meant to her life,” he added.
January is National Blood Donor Month. New Jersey’s emergency blood supply is low during the winter months, according to Christia Keyte, blood donor program supervisor, RWJUH/Somerset.
Donating blood is extremely important, especially when medical injuries and accidents increase because of cold weather, Keyte said.
“The need is always greater than the supply; there is always a need for blood,” Keyte said. “The only way we can have blood on the shelf is if people give of themselves.
“It is a simple and relatively painless procedure, a simple thing to do to give back to the community,” she continued. “You never know if you or a family member may need blood transfusions, so I would certainly encourage people to donate."
Those wishing to donate blood can make an appointment online by accessing the website at www.rwjuhdonorclub.org to make an appointment.