AUSTIN, Texas —
One Central Texas family is counting their blessings each time they embrace their youngest child. That's because mother of three Tara Vickers suffered a massive heart attack about a month before her due date.
At first, she thought she was having typical pregnancy heartburn. It wasn't until it wouldn't go away that she realized the problem was much more serious.
"It doesn't really hit me until now, looking back, how serious it was and how close to death I really was. And the baby, too," Tara Vickers said.
It was that recognition that her care team says saved her life.
"She's my best friend. Almost wasn't here today," said her husband, Seth Vickers.
High school sweethearts Tara and Seth Vickers got married six years ago. They then grew their family with babies Jackson and Chandler.
"Now we've built a family, and now we just plan on living the dream," Tara Vickers said.
But one night, while pregnant with her third child, Tara began experiencing some discomfort.
"I started having, like, a burning feeling in my chest. And it went all the way to my back, shoulder blades, and it just got increasingly worse," Tara Vickers said.
She tried heartburn medicine and her inhaler when it got harder to breath, but nothing worked.
"That's when God told me, ‘You need to go.’ So, I told Seth, I was like, 'We have to go,'" she said. "He drove me to the E.R., got to the E.R.. My blood pressure is 185 over 125."
After running a few tests, her doctor in Weimer, Texas, said she was having a SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection) heart attack. She was flown to St. David's North Austin Medical Center.
The nurses on the helicopter warned her that there would be a big team waiting for her when she got there.
"There was probably 30 people, at least, in that room. And the ER team, the OB team, the cardiac team and everybody was around me," Tara Vickers said. "But it wasn't hectic. I never felt like anything bad was happening."
Seth Vickers had to drive about an hour and a half from Weimer, Texas, to meet his wife. He said everyone was so calm that it wasn't until later that he realized how serious things were.
"I wasn't there for all the team and all that interaction. So, you know, whenever I showed up ... it's wild," Seth Vickers said. "It was a shock to walk in and see her hooked up to all that stuff."
One member of the team was Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Robert Wozniak.
"Anything that a person can do to help someone, particularly with a happy ending where Mom and Dad and baby are alive and going to have a wonderful life, it's very fulfilling," Wozniak said.
Wozniak treated Tara Vickers' heart, and a high-risk pregnancy team watched after her baby.
Once she was stabilized, they got her to wait three weeks before delivering baby Charlie. They wanted to wait because delivering a baby so soon after a heart attack is dangerous.
"It was a perfect delivery. I have a perfectly healthy baby now to show for it. It was a lot to go through, but it was a really good ending," Tara Vickers said.
It wasn't until after they were home and settled and went in for a follow-up appointment that Seth Vickers said he truly understood just how blessed they were.
"He came and told her like, 'After seeing your EKG, I don't know how you didn't die in there.' And I feel like that's whenever it hit me," Seth Vickers said.
Now the Vickers family just wants to thank the care team, even though thanks aren't enough.
"They truly did save my life. They saved my daughter's life. I'm forever grateful for them," Tara Vickers said.
"I feel forever indebted because they kept my family together," Seth Vickers said.
Her doctors and care team credit her fast action for saving her and her baby's life. Instead of passing off her chest pain as typical heartburn, Tara Vickers recognized that something was wrong and got help.
"If you start to have symptoms, honestly, I would rather see you 10 times in the hospital and say, 'yep, it is just reflux,' than miss that time that you're actually having an event," said Dr. Kimberly DeStefano, an OBGYN and the medical director of maternal fetal medicine at St. David's North Austin Medical Center.
"Because time really matters, and our ability to intervene and have a good outcome for Mom and baby really depends on how quickly you get in for care," DeStefano added.
Tara Vickers' cardiologist said it's important to pay attention to symptoms like chest discomfort or breathing problems and to not ignore them when something doesn't feel right – even when you're pregnant.
"The best thing you can do is call EMS and they'll evaluate you in your home to find out, is this something that needs higher care? Like the emergency room or, in this case, a helicopter ride in the sky to a subspecialty place that can give you even higher care because your life depends on it," Wozniak said.
Tara Vickers' doctors at St. David's also credit the doctors at the hospital in Weimer, Texas, for recognizing that something was wrong and calling for the helicopter. They say saving her life was a team effort that started there.