When are you dead?

By Philippe Djegal - email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Doctors are still puzzled by an incident on Christmas Eve, when a pregnant Colorado woman fell into cardiac arrest during labor. Tracy Hermanstorfer showed no signs of life. And, when doctors delivered her baby, he showed no signs of life, either. But then, miraculously, both somehow survived.

So, how often does something like this happen? When will doctor's give up? When are you legally dead?

ETMC ER physician, Dr. Bill Moore says that when a person is on advanced life support, has been given medications, has received CPR for more than 20 to 30 minutes and the monitors still show no signs of life, that is when doctors say they have do all they could.

"Someone upstairs is looking after me and said it wasn't time for me to be gone," said Tracy Hermanstorfer.

Hermanstorfer was reportedly lifeless for more than 15 minutes. Then, moments after her baby boy was delivered, she started breathing again.

"I mean, in hundreds of thousands of deliveries, it's very rare to have that happen," said Moore. "For the most part, God protects us, the mother, from that kind of thing."

It is still unclear as to why Hermanstorfer came back to life simply because doctors have yet to determine why she fell into cardiac arrest.

"Pregnancy is a risky thing," said Moore. "It's a tough thing for the body."

But, there are two theories as to how it happened. First Hermanstorfer could have had an amniotic fluid embolism, during which fetal cells, hair or other debris, enter the mother's blood stream.

"If a big clump of amniotic fluid, or the fluid around the baby gets in the blood vessel that's not carrying oxygen, and if that hits the heart at the wrong spot, then all of a sudden, the heart can go into an arrest," said Moore.

Second, a blood clot could have entered her blood stream and plugged up her lungs, stopping blood circulation.

"If no blood flows through the lungs then there's no more oxygen to the brain and to the heart, and you go into arrest," said Moore.

He stresses that this condition is extremely rare. In his 30 years as an ER physician, only one time, has a pregnant mother fallen into cardiac arrest.

"Nobody did anything wrong," said Moore. "It just happened."

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