Jennifer Wallenhorst's Story

August 16, 2018 should have been one of the happiest days in the lives of Jennifer Wallenhorst and her husband Rick. After years of undergoing fertility treatments, Jennifer and Rick were finally pregnant and on their way to Highland Hospital of Rochester in western New York to meet their baby boy. They were filled with excitement and anticipation.

After hours of pushing through a long and complicated labor, Jennifer was rushed into an emergency c-section when her baby’s heartrate started to drop. While she ended up delivering a healthy baby, Jennifer’s health took a turn shortly after delivery. The last thing Jennifer remembers is telling her Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), Kara Hedman, that she did not feel good. Moments later Jennifer went into a seizure and cardiac arrest, stopped breathing, and flatlined for four minutes.

Jennifer suffered what’s known as an Amniotic Fluid Embolism (AFE). The maternal mortality rate for this condition can be as high as 80%, with 50% of mothers dying within the first hour of symptom onset. For patients that do survive the embolism, the majority of them will experience long-term neurological deficits.

Luckily for Jennifer, her CRNA’s fast response and awareness to intubate and get Jennifer on a respirator saved her life. As a result, Jennifer did not lose any oxygen and has no side effects today.

“Kara saw that I wasn’t able to breath on my own and immediately jumped into action,” Jennifer shares. “I do not have any complications at all. Sometimes I don’t even like to talk about it because I made it and I know that is not typically the outcome.”

Before that day, Jennifer had never heard of a CRNA or a nurse anesthetist.

Knowing what she knows now, she says she will always request to have a CRNA in the room by her side for any anesthesia procedure.

“The nurse anesthetist plays the most important role in that room because they are monitoring your life,” she explains. “They stay by your side watching your heartbeat and listening to your lungs with every breath. CRNAs are the ones to know if something is wrong. Kara’s quick response saved my life.”

Today, Jennifer’s beautiful baby boy, Richard John, who goes by RJ, is four-years-old. Not a day goes by that Jennifer hasn’t felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for her “all-star” CRNA, Kara.

“I look back on my last four years with my son and there is no way to appropriately thank my nurse anesthetist for the important role she played that day and every day since,” Jennifer says. “I owe it all to her for letting me experience these moments, this life. I would not be here if it weren’t for her.”

CRNAs deserve not only your gratitude, but your support. They were put to the test during the pandemic, when they put their skill and compassion into action to provide critical care to patients suffering from COVID 19. Their specific training in airway management and ventilation put them on the front lines.

Despite their invaluable service, CRNAs are not recognized in New York. This affects the cost of healthcare and limits access to quality care, especially for patients in rural areas of New York state.

The good news is there’s a simple solution. CRNAs are championing a bill in New York that, when passed, will recognize CRNAs and expand the work they are allowed to do. This means high quality, affordable and accessible care for New Yorkers.

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