Local woman experiences rare condition after epidural

By Heather Meade hmeade@civitasmedia.com

March 1, 2014

GREENVILLE - Elizabeth Proctor had no idea when she got to Upper Valley Medical Center in Troy that giving birth to her fifth child would bring so many difficulties, but she and newborn daughter Frankie Elaine, who was born Feb. 20, are doing just fine now, she said.

“I was induced Feb. 19; when the doctor came in to break my water, that’s when everything started going downhill,” Elizabeth recalled. “My contractions slowed down; and Frankie’s heart rate kept dropping with my contractions…I should have called for a c-section right then.”

Little did Elizabeth know that after receiving her third dose of epidural medication, she would lose the use of part of her left arm, and that her face would droop in a stroke-like manner, she said.

“I had an epidural with my youngest son, Ayden, and everything went smoothly, he arrived within about 10 minutes; this was so different, and it was horrible,” Elizabeth explained. “After my epidural this time, I tried to push and I couldn’t. I had no control over my own body. I can’t even describe the feeling.”

Elizabeth’s anesthesiologist was stumped, she said.

“Frank, my husband, got really mad because the anesthesiologist couldn’t tell us what was going on, but he didn’t know what was going on; Frank couldn’t accept that,” Elizabeth said. “I was really scared; I couldn’t breathe and they didn’t know why. I thought I was going to die. I thought both of us were going to die.”

The anesthesiologist searched for an answer, and came up with Horner’s Syndrome. According to MayoClinic.org, Horner’s is a “rare disorder that occurs when certain nerves that travel from your brain to your eyes and face are damaged.” Typically, the syndrome affects only one side of the face, but it’s not a disease in its own right, according to the definition given by MayoClinic.org; it’s an indication of another medical problem such as stroke, tumor or spinal cord injury, but in some cases, no underlying cause is ever found.

Elizabeth said her anesthesiologist explained how rare that situation was; stating that less than 40 cases have ever been documented, and nearly 30 of those were in obstetric patients, she said.

“I was always afraid of getting an epidural because of the big needle in my back, but never would I have thought that this would happen. I’ve heard people say they couldn’t breathe and stuff, who knows how many people have had this reaction and it was overlooked because it’s so rare. Even if they do experience something like that, they probably think it’s just from the epidural, not knowing what it is,” Elizabeth said. “It’s like one of those things that until it happens, you have no idea. And when it happens, you wonder why more people don’t know about it. I never want to go through that again.”

It was the scariest experience of her life, Elizabeth said, and she’s hoping that by letting people know her story, she can save someone else that heartache and anxiety.

“The anesthesiologist said that no one knows about this condition because it’s so rare; so women, and even doctors and anesthesiologists aren’t informed of this added risk of having an epidural,” Elizabeth said. “We’d been there for over 24 hours before Frankie was born, and in the end I had to have a c-section. The tension was so high in the room already with her heart rate dropping, and then going through that episode, and seeing your husband break down like that, and your own family won’t even look at you…I’ll never get another epidural.”

Baby Frankie was healthy, despite some initial issues with her sugar, three weeks before her due date, Elizabeth said. Elizabeth and Frankie are both doing well at home with Frankie’s five brothers, Austin, Ethan, Tyler, Hunter and Ayden, and her dad Frank.