The woman screamed in agony. Her skin went as pale as her teeth. Her blood pressure was too low, and her pulse was too high.
Her distended abdomen was filling with blood. Code Green began on May 19, 2015, a date that will never be forgotten in the Dowd family, which had been in a similar, life-threatening situation on the same day – May 19 – in 2011. What are the odds that medical emergencies could hit the families of two brothers on the same day four years apart?
“We live in a world of rare,” said Brian Dowd, who lives in Irvine.
The staff at The Women’s Hospital at Saddleback Memorial in Laguna Hills uses the term “Code Green” in childbirth emergencies.
Since it opened in 1988, The Women’s Hospital has been the birthplace of more than 50,000 babies, and recently, the rate of births has risen to about 3,000 per year. Two of those babies were fathered by brothers Brian and Eric Dowd, who grew up in Mission Viejo and went to Capistrano Valley High School. In more than 25 years of existence, the hospital has never seen anything like the strange coincidence that befell the Dowd family.
On the day new mother Monika Dowd started bleeding unexpectedly during the delivery of her daughter, The Women’s Hospital had never lost a mother in childbirth. That is an amazing statistic considering that deaths among women in childbirth are rising in America – from 7.2 per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 18.5 per 100,000 live births in 2013, according to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and The Lancet, a medical journal.
“We’ve had a lot of luck and angels on our shoulders,” said Terri Deeds, The Women’s Hospital director of women’s and children’s services.
When the staff hears “Code Green,” they scramble like a NASCAR pit crew, Deeds said. When Monika Dowd started bleeding, there were two days of Code Green announcements. Dr. Grace Kong remembers running down the hall on that second day toward the intensive care unit.
Kong remembers thinking, “This is bad.”
• • •
Monika Dubovska was a star in the Czech Republic, an elite, competitive ballroom dancer.
She came to America in 2001 when she was 20 with $200 in her pocket. She settled in Boston and found the Fred Astaire Studio, which became her training home. Monika made enough of an income teaching dance to travel around the United States to competitions. In 2004, she won the Professional International Latin 5 Dance Championship in Lowell, Mass. In 2005, she won the Professional Rising Star International Latin 5 Dance Championship in Palm Desert. She competed in Orlando, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Costa Mesa and Irvine.
She excelled in Latin and American Smooth ballroom dance, styles she had been perfecting since she was 10 years old.
In 2011, she found herself in need of a new partner, not in dance, but in life. She signed up on Match.com, a dating website, and saw the profile of Brian Dowd. He was a triathlete who had once run across the Sahara desert. He had studied criminal law at Cal State Long Beach, but changed his mind and got a job working in the finance department at Toyota.
In his Match.com profile, Brian wrote that he wanted to find a woman to settle down.
She liked his honesty. So she “winked” at him and sent an email.
They agreed to meet on May 19, 2011.
• • •
Eric Dowd, Brian’s older brother, had met his wife, Arica, at Cal State Fullerton. He eventually became the finance director for UPS. She became an elementary school teacher.
Their son, Ethan, was born Feb. 1, 2011 at The Women’s Hospital at Saddleback Memorial. Something wasn’t right.
The baby fussed. He didn’t feed well. His health quickly deteriorated from breathing trouble to lethargy to seizures and then to coma.
Eric Dowd thought he was watching his newborn son die.
“We needed to prepare ourselves for the worst,” Dowd said. “There is something seriously wrong here. I didn’t think he was going to make it.”
Brothers Eric and Brian Dowd cried together, bracing themselves.
What happened next is nothing short of a miracle.
Dr. Ronald Naglie, among a thousand things he could have done to try to solve the puzzle of what was going wrong with Ethan Dowd, ordered a check of Ethan’s ammonia level. In pediatrics for 29 years, Naglie thinks he has ordered an ammonia test on a newborn maybe 20 times.
“When you hear hoof beats, you think of horses, not zebras,” Naglie said.
The right answer, in this case, was zebras. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the right answer would have been horses.
The test results came back with high levels of ammonia, suggesting Urea Cycle Disorder, which occurs in one in 10,000 babies.
“I’m thankful it entered my mind,” Naglie said. “The baby would have expired.”
Ethan still wasn’t safe. He had to have two surgeries and spent seven weeks in Children’s Hospital of Orange County’s intensive care unit.
He also needed a liver transplant. On May 19, 2011, a baby died in Las Vegas, and the family donated that liver. Ethan was rushed to the UCLA Medical Center for the transplant.
On that day, Brian went at UCLA to support his brother and nephew. Then he left the hospital to meet the woman he had met on Match.com.
• • •
Monika gave up dancing competitively in 2012. She became a full-time dance instructor and began to concentrate on having a family.
She and Brian were married on Feb. 1, 2013 — their nephew Ethan’s second birthday.
On May 19, 2015, Monika was 34 weeks pregnant, sitting at home, when she felt sudden pain.
Dr. Mary O’Toole could see immediately that Monika needed an emergency C-section. First the baby, a girl named Natalie, had a problem breathing. Then Monika started bleeding. The baby recovered quickly. Monika did not.
“I’m trying to focus on my daughter,” Brian said. “But I could see a lot of stuff was happening with my wife. The doctor had my wife’s uterus in her hands.”
Monika needed an emergency hysterectomy. It was the easiest and toughest decision Brian Dowd has ever made. Easy because it seemed like the only way save his wife. Tough because it ended the possibility they would, together, have another child.
Monika had the surgery and made it through the night. Eric stayed with Brian. “My brother had to grow up real fast,” Eric said.
Dr. O’Toole was so moved by seeing Monika struggle that she decided to donate blood that night after her shift. That gesture wasn’t the last time Brian Dowd would be floored by what he saw at The Women’s Hospital.
The next day, Monika still wasn’t right. She went pale again. Brian remembers getting lost in the maze of rooms trying to find her.
He passed the office of a man wearing a hospital badge and asked directions.
“Are you Mr. Dowd?” the man asked as he showed him the way to find Monika.
That man was Steve Geidt, the CEO of Saddleback Memorial Medical Center. Geidt had come in early to check Monika and Natalie’s condition. As they walked toward Monika’s room, the receptionist said, “We’re praying for you, Mr. Dowd.”
“They truly care,” Brian thought.
When he reached Monika, Brian could see she was in trouble. Her eyes rolled back in her head.
Dr. Grace Kong ran into the ICU to find that Monika was in the process of losing about seven liters of blood.
“She was tapped out,” Kong said.
Brian couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
“We were running out of time,” Brian said. “It sounded like she was drowning in her own blood.”
After hours of searching every crevice of Monika’s abdomen, Kong finally found the bleeding blood vessel. She applied a surgical clip.
Monika Dowd regained her color. And The Women’s Hospital’s record of never losing a new mother was intact.
“Before my second surgery, they let me hold my daughter,” Monika said. “That’s when I knew I had to fight.”
• • •
As 2015 comes to an end, Brian Dowd is so thankful that he became a regular at The Women’s Hospital. Ethan is a healthy and rambunctious 4-year-old. Monika and Natalie are fine. Monika is teaching dance again.
Brian Dowd attended a management meeting to thank the staff. He was a guest speaker at the Saddleback Memorial Foundation’s 17th annual fund-raising event in October. He also speaks at monthly tours of the hospital, reminding future parents about the importance of giving blood.
He was around so much, they hired him in September. Brian is now a financial efficiency expert in the Memorial Care office.
“They’ll never forget our name,” Eric Dowd said with a laugh. “We’ve given them a ton of business.”
One more note about Eric and Arica Dowd. When Arica got pregnant with her second child, there was no question where the baby would be delivered.
Caitlin Dowd was born in April at The Women’s Hospital without incident.
There was no Code Green.
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