Aiman Siddiqui, a 26-year-old resident of Ankleshwar in Bharuch district, had never imagined that the joy of being a first-time mother would turn into a long fight for life.
Aiman, who delivered a baby girl in February — days before the Covid-19 outbreak in India — was at a hospital from August until October 1. She battled Covid-19 and a ruptured artery of the heart due to a rare pre-existing condition, Marfan syndrome.
The homemaker first complained of excruciating pain between her shoulder blades and palpitations after childbirth. When her obstetricians referred her to a physician in the midst of the nationwide lockdown in mid-April, a series of tests followed. Four months later in August, the Dharmsinh Desai Memorial Methodist (DDMM) Institute of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery in Nadiad diagnosed her with an underlying heart ailment caused due to a rare congenital connective tissue disorder, Marfan syndrome. Former US President Abraham Lincoln was also said to have suffered from the same.
“Her aorta was thinned out and had dilated like a balloon. The innermost layer had torn and allowed blood to run freely through the inner and middle layers. Her aortic valve was leaking severely, as was her mitral valve. The left ventricle was pumping at 20%, pushing her into severe heart failure,” said cardiovascular surgeon Dr Sanjeeth Peter, who performed a 10-hour surgery on Aiman.
The surgery had also hit a Covid-19 hurdle in August, when Aiman tested positive for the virus following multiple visits to different hospitals. Dr Peter said that while the risks involved in this surgery were very high, not doing anything would have meant certain death.
“…She rushed back to her home district (after testing positive for Covid-19), got tested again and wasn’t surprised when her RT-PCR reported positive. After home isolation and strict adherence to the heart medications prescribed and monitored telephonically by the DDMM Institute team, she returned to Nadiad after three weeks. When the repeat tests were negative for Covid, she had surgery,” he said.
On September 21, a machine took over the functioning of Aiman’s heart and lungs. Dr Peter said that the trickiest part was the replacement of the aorta. “The procedure involves cooling the patient down to 18 degrees Celsius… The surgeons replaced the entire arch of her aorta and used a dangling graft (elephant trunk) into the descending aorta. The arteries in the upper portion of her body were then re-implanted to this artificial graft,” Dr Peter said.
It then took Aiman two hours to return to normal body temperature after restoration of blood circulation. “When she finally woke up, the team was overjoyed. Her lungs took a week to recover completely. Eight days later, she was shifted to the ward in preparation for discharge,” Dr Peter added.
Doctors said that Aiman will need to undergo an endovascular stent procedure in a few weeks, but the most difficult part of her journey towards recovery is behind her. For Aiman, video calls from the hospital to her now eight-month-old daughter had kept her going during the separation. On Thursday, when she reunited with her daughter after a gap of two months, the staff joined the emotional moment.
Presently, Aiman can only speak via sign language or whispers. She told The Indian Express, “I have lived my days of motherhood, so far, in utmost fear, wondering what would become of my daughter if something were to happen to me. It is ironic that this very thought is also a source of strength… Doctors said that my natural labour triggered an underlying condition and it is possible that coronavirus made it worse. I was told I would not live to see my daughter’s first birthday… The fight is long, but my daughter keeps me going.”
Aiman’s husband works as a mechanic and the couple had sold off a house they owned to cover her medical expenses. “We will figure out the medical costs for my further treatment… my family is with me. This, in itself, is a big blessing,” she said.
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