By Janet Tappin Coelho

A mother and her unborn baby were miraculously saved after they BOTH died during labour.

Michelle Santiago, 27, suffered a sudden heart attack from severe pre-eclampsia and died on a waiting room bed in Guararapes Memorial hospital in Recife, north east Brazil.

Surgeons made the split-second decision to perform an emergency caesarean with a scalpel and without anaesthetic on her lifeless body, right where she lay.

They delivered the baby, but the child had apparently died in the womb at the same time as her mother.

Nurses battled to revive the new born with oxygen and miraculously, just five minutes later, the tot was breathing on her own.

Minutes after the drastic surgery, physicians resuscitated the stricken mum using a defibrillator to send electric shocks to her heart, which had stopped beating for ten minutes.

Both mum and daughter have made a full recovery.

A week after surviving her ‘death-defying’ episode, Michelle wept for joy as she held her healthy baby girl, Maysa, for the first time.

Obstetrician Dr Gláucius Nascimento, who led the emergency life-saving team said: “This was a remarkable incident.

“It was as if we were operating in a war situation.

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“We had to think really fast and work with what we had and right where we were.

“Our decisions meant either saving or losing both the mother and the baby.

He added: “Everyone was in tears, the moment we heard the baby cry and saw our patient come back to life.”

Michelle is believed to have suffered an amniotic fluid pulmonary embolism. A condition where fluid from the womb enters the mother’s blood stream.

It is a rare and severe complication during pregnancy which occurs only once in every 30,000 births, according to medical records.

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Michelle was discharged last week Monday [6 February] after a month spent recovering in hospital.

Michelle said: “I’d been having a lot of headaches for the past month and the back of my neck was very painful. I decided to go to the hospital because I couldn’t take the pain anymore.”

At the maternity unit, she was diagnosed with severe pre-eclampsia (hypertension in pregnancy) and given medication. But this failed to stabilise her blood pressure.

The married mum-of-two who lives in Recife, said: “I lay down on the bed, my head was hammering and I was feeling really sick.

“I suddenly felt like my whole body was on fire and I screamed ‘I can’t breathe’.

“The last thing I remember before blacking out, was vomiting violently. Everything happened so quickly.”

Nascimento was on his afternoon shift on 6 January (this year), when he was notified Michelle had arrived suffering from headaches, shortness of breath and severe nausea.

She was six days past her delivery date, but had no contractions.

Nascimento said: “One minute I was preparing to take Michelle into surgery because I had already anticipated her situation could get worse. In the next, a nurse was shouting ‘her heart has stopped’.

“I just a few paces away from her bed, I threw my cell phone on the floor and started cardiac massage immediately.”

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Around 15 medical staff were on the scene within seconds. Some were involved in trying to revive the mum by opening her airways while others helped Nascimento as he prepared to operate.

The obstetrician said: “I grabbed a scalpel to do the C-section. We had no time to get the normal electric one. The baby was withdrawn in less than one minute so we could start defibrillating Michelle.”

But Maysa urgently needed oxygen as she appeared dead at birth.

Nurses worked to revive the child and after five intense minutes the infant, who was born weighing a healthy seven and a half pounds, cried and started breathing on her own.

Nascimento, who worked quickly to suture the C-section, said: “It was a moment of sheer happiness when we all heard the baby cry.”

Only then could doctors begin to save Michelle’s life. She had been dead for ten minutes. Physicians used shock waves to resuscitate and restore a heartbeat.

Vascular surgeon, doctor Fernanda Carvalho said: “The situation was so urgent, I climbed on top of the bed on my knees and applied cardiac massage to stabilise her heart rate. All I could think of was this mum was not going to leave her baby without us fighting for her to live.”

Michelle spent a week in intensive care recovering from her operation and from a bout of pneumonia.

Sandra Santiago, Michelle’s mother, was with her daughter when she first came around after the emergency procedure.

Sandra said: “I kept begging Michelle in ICU to live and come back to us.

“The first time she opened her eyes, was the greatest moment ever and I couldn’t stop crying, as I told her I loved her so much.”

Michelle held her newborn daughter for the first time, seven days later. The child stayed with her in hospital.

She said: “When I woke up in ICU I panicked and put my hand on my belly because I thought I’d lost my baby.

“But my mum said she was well and beautiful and waiting for me in the nursery.

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“I am overwhelmed with gratitude for what the medical staff have done for us. They were incredible because they performed a miracle by saving two lives.”

Nascimento, who has been practicing medicine for 16 years, said: “I’ve been involved in several high-risk maternity situations but I have never performed a caesarean while the patient was perimortem (near to death).

“This incident was worth all my years of sacrifice to become a doctor.”

Medical researchers diagnosed Michelle’s cardiac arrest was caused by a pulmonary embolism due to amniotic fluid entering her blood stream.

Nascimento said: “We are still studying why this happened but from our initial findings it appears as if the amniotic fluid formed a clot that broke away and reached the lungs. It’s a very rare event.”

Doctors added the miracle mum had suffered no further complications because the incident was handled so quickly it didn’t have time to cause neurological damage.

One month after her life-saving surgery, Michelle, who is taking medication to her control her blood pressure, has returned home to her five-year-old daughter, Melania and husband Jose Fernando, 26.

Jose said: “I thought I had lost the love of my life and my baby daughter.

“This has been a real shock to us and shown just how easily Michelle could have died in childbirth if she hadn’t been in the right place at the right time and with the right medical staff to save her and our daughter.”