How a Tiny Heart Pump Saved One Mom's Life During Her C-Section

Melissa Joatie Olaso went into cardiogenic shock during her planned C-section. She credits a tiny device and quick-thinking doctors with saving her life.


Heart disease during pregnancy isn't unheard of. In fact, it's relatively common—up to four percent of pregnant women can be impacted, even if they have never previously had any heart or circulatory issues. And the risk of a cardiac emergency definitely wasn't on the mind of mom of four Melissa Joatie Olaso as she prepared for her planned C-section. But after she developed cardiogenic shock during her child's birth, Melissa credits a new medical device—and her quick-thinking doctors—for saving her life.

"[Cardiogenic shock] is a condition which occurs when the heart is unable to generate enough blood flow to support the body," explains Dr. Rishi K. Patel, MD, an interventional cardiologist in Ventura, California, who treated Melissa. Symptoms of cardiogenic shock can include rapid breathing and shortness of breath, sweating, and a loss of consciousness. Mortality rates for cardiogenic shock can be high—a 2010 study found that nearly 40 percent of women who developed cardiogenic shock died from the condition.

Cardiogenic shock is what led to Melissa's medical emergency—and to the implantation of the Impella CP, a small heart pump that actually pulls blood from the left ventricle through an inlet area near its tip and then expels blood into the aorta. Implementation of the device doesn't require surgery—it's inserted by way of catheter through the femoral artery, saving a pregnant patient on the edge, like Melissa, the added risk and trauma of an additional surgery.

Dr. Patel says the new device is a lifesaver for moms like Melissa and other cardiac patients. "These devices can now provide an augmentation of cardiac output equivalent to surgically placed ventricular assist devices," according to Dr. Patel. "The biggest advantage is that the devices can be placed rapidly and safely in patients who are rapidly declining. This has truly helped save a number of patients who would have otherwise had no treatment options."

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Melissa credits the device with saving her life and letting her experience motherhood fully. "It's the only reason why I'm still alive to see my children grow up—and the reason I was able to walk out of the hospital on the power of my own recovered heart."

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