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Access to healthcare saves lives of young mother and her infant son

Apr 9, 2024 | Blog

Horizon’s Northwest Regional Manager Cassy Harmon was born and raised a country girl on a North Dakota pheasant farm. That rural background prepared her for the life she would lead with Michael Frank of Isabel, SD. She and Frank have a daughter. Nine months after she was born, Harmon found out she was pregnant with their son Damon. Life had not prepared her for what came next.

Harmon and her medical team discovered she was pregnant with twins.  From the beginning, her pregnancy was difficult. At four weeks, she started bleeding and was told by Alex Bachman-Williams, PA-C, at the Family Health Center in Eagle Butte, to go to the emergency room. She found that her numbers had dropped significantly for a pregnancy but were still high. She’d had several miscarriages in the past and unfortunately had suffered another. Her OB/GYN in Bismarck found that she had lost one of the babies, but the second twin was still alive and well.

“Alex was my biggest support at that time,” Harmon said.

Harmon chose Bachman-Williams as her primary care provider because of her background in pediatrics and as a nurse in an infant intensive care unit.

A few months later, Harmon started itching uncontrollably, and not just in the belly area, which is typical during pregnancy. This was a head to toe irritation.

“I was scratching my skin raw,” Harmon said.

Harmon said Bachman-Williams was concerned she’d developed cholestasis, a liver disease that can develop during pregnancy. It causes a high percentage of stillborn births. Her fetal medical specialist concurred. Harmon now had to go to Bismarck every other week for a month and every week until Damon was born healthy at 36 weeks. Because Harmon developed preeclampsia, they were in the hospital the whole week before Damon arrived.

At birth, Damon inhaled amniotic fluid and his heart and lungs were not fully developed, even though ultrasounds indicated they were.

“He was not doing well at birth,” Harmon said. “I kept hearing them whisper, come on, please breathe, please make it through this.”

It took Harmon’s epidural much longer to wear off than normal. As a result, she didn’t see Damon again until the day after he was born. In the meantime, she messaged Alex and let her know what was happening.

“She was fully prepared for what she was going to be dealing with when we came home,” Harmon said.

The doctors discovered further complications – a heart murmur. Every other week for a month they traveled to Eagle Butte for check-ups. Then Damon started doing better. He gained weight and started growing like a weed, Harmon said. Bachman-Williams said she was confident they could take him off the oxygen earlier than anticipated.

“It was a relief,” Harmon said. “It was like a whole new baby was born that day. His whole personality changed.”

Eventually they got to a point where Bachman-Williams couldn’t hear the heart murmur anymore. The next time they were in Bismarck, his echocardiogram showed the hole had closed. As she did throughout this very high-risk pregnancy, Harmon texted Bachman-Williams to tell her the good news.

“We were super thankful she helped,” Harmon said. “If we didn’t have Alex here, I wouldn’t know what to do because not all providers have that NICU experience.”

Unfortunately, Harmon and her family weren’t out of the woods yet. She experienced extremely heavy bleeding after Damon was born because the remains of the second baby were still inside her. They induced labor, which ultimately did not work. She was working at the Bison Community Clinic when she started to feel weak and cold. Her heart felt like it was about to run out of her chest. Her pulse was extremely low, and she was bleeding again. She made it to the hospital in Mobridge, but she passed out on the way. The staff had a hard time waking her up. Ultimately the mass of her baby had to be removed surgically after a hurried drive to Bismarck. It was Bachman-Williams who suggested she get to an ER right away rather than stopping at the clinic.

“Having that kind of relationship with Alex is probably what saved my life because I wouldn’t have known what to do otherwise,” Harmon said.

In an area where the closest hospital is an hour away, it’s vital to have community health centers that know their patients and can tell them what to do when something goes severely wrong. Harmon said she would have felt comfortable calling any of the Horizon providers in the northwest to gain similar guidance.

“I always tell new patients that Horizon is a wonderful facility to establish care with because we are a small-town community,” Harmon said. “Just about every person who works for Horizon has that small town background and we get to know every patient on that personal level. They know you; they know what you’re coming in for, they know your history. You will get quality care at Horizon.”

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