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“Conemaugh Was Home”

Stephanie and her husband Jeremy had been trying to start a family for more than 6 years before she became pregnant. She tearfully recalls the heartache during that period, as the people around her successfully started families while they struggled. She recounts the emotional toll and ups and downs of IVF and miscarriage, and then finally, a successful pregnancy.  “I did everything they told me to,” she remembers of her pregnancy with Elliana – now five years old. “I was so grateful, and the pregnancy was going well. There were no indications that anything was wrong.”

A Johnstown resident, Stephanie was seeing Dr. Adib Khouzhami at Conemaugh Physician Group. He specializes in high risk pregnancy. At 36 weeks and three days, Stephanie experienced a problem. “We were out shopping and getting everything ready, and I felt this pain. A pain like I’d never experienced in my life.” She knew something was wrong. She and her husband considered going to Pittsburgh – it was actually closer to the shopping mall. But she knew her doctors at Conemaugh Physician Group, and wanted to be there. “Conemaugh was home.” Stephanie and her husband knew her care team at Conemaugh could handle any emergency.

It turned out the situation was very serious.  Her liver ruptured. A rare, undetected condition was the cause, and the consequences were dire. The obstetrician prepared for a life-saving C-section. Baby Elliana, struggling to breathe, was rushed to the Conemaugh Memorial Regional Intensive Care Nursery (RICN) while trauma surgeons worked to save Stephanie.

Five-year old Elliana looks up at her mom with love when she hears the story told. She’s never had any challenges despite the circumstances of her birth.  No one would look at this lovely little chatterbox and guess she was so close to peril.

Stephanie and her husband wanted to have another baby. The rare condition that caused her ruptured liver was never known to happen twice. Her doctors closely monitored her and her baby when she became pregnant. Everything was going smoothly.

At 29 weeks it happened…again. Her liver ruptured. Though the symptoms were very different, Stephanie and her team at Conemaugh suspected the worst, and took action right away. When she arrived at the hospital this time, the surgical teams took action with the RICN team waiting. Zane was born weighing two pounds and eleven ounces. He spent 40 days in the RICN, growing and developing under the care of the staff. Stephanie underwent four surgeries in four days to repair her damaged organs.  She remembers very little, but recalls how the staff looked after her family. “So many of the nurses remembered us and remembered Elliana. They would bring her coloring books. They made her feel like she was part of Zane’s care.” 

Years later, Stephanie looks back at her relationship with the doctors and nurses that saved her life. “They will always be part of our extended family. They walked through this with us. If it wasn't for them I wouldn't have my babies right now.” And it’s clear they feel the same way about her.  Stephanie keeps in touch with the team at Conemaugh, and attended the 45th Anniversary celebration of the RICN. When Stephanie, Elliana and Zane make an appearance, hugs abound.

(Jeremy, Elliana, Stephanie and Zane pose with trauma surgeon Shawn Morrissey, MD at the the 45th anniversary celebration of the RICN in 2019.)

Stephanie shared her story to give other families hope.  Faced with adversity throughout her journey to parenthood, Stephanie now enjoys a beautiful, healthy and happy family. Zane, like Elliana, shows no signs of his traumatic, and early, entry to the world. She feels fortunate and she goes out of her way to bring positivity and hope to every conversation.

Stephanie chose Conemaugh for her care, and she reflects on what that means to her now. “If we were in the biggest hospitals in the biggest cities in the country, I would put our care at Conemaugh Memorial against any of them. They cared about how our entire family was doing, and it was genuine.”