Last year, the Dahl family rushed to Waukesha Memorial Hospital in all the chaotic anticipation that comes with welcoming a new baby to their family.
It wasn’t their first time. Joanna and her husband Randy had already welcomed two children into their family in prior years at the same hospital. Christina and Dimitri both came into the world without complications.
They expected the same for Zoe, but everything changed. And it changed fast.
While in labor, Joanna started feeling ill. Suddenly, for reasons not fully understood, she stopped breathing. In that instant, two lives were hanging in the balance of the nurses, therapists and doctors at Waukesha Memorial.
“It’s so hard to put into words. Your heart just sinks, but at the same time you know you need to save those lives,” said Lisa Neuman, who was at Joanna’s side when her breathing ceased.
The prognosis for Joanna wasn't good. Randy was told roughly 80 percent of mothers with Joanna's condition during labor lose their lives.
Neuman instantly took charge of the situation, and in seconds some 30 doctors and nurses worked in unison so save two lives. One physician performed CPR to keep blood flowing to Zoe, who had yet to see the world. Two other physicians worked to deliver the unborn child. All the while, Joanna's life hung by a thread.
Randy could only wait helplessly, relying on updates from nurses coming in and out of the delivery room.
“It was a blur,” Randy said. “You always hope for the best, but I think we definitely found ourselves in the worst case scenario.”
Zoe made it into this world, but with a shallow heartbeat. Her mother was rushed to the intensive care unit. Joanna had suffered profuse blood loss and was placed in a medically induced coma. For five days her family kept vigil. Joanna’s condition steadily improved, and she was sent home 10 days after a near-death experience.
Joanna has no memory of the ordeal, and relies on second-hand accounts from family and hospital staff to recall her harrowing experience.
“If it wasn’t for Lisa, and everyone’s impeccable timing, I might not be here. Every minute counted then. Because of everyone’s precision and level of expertise I am here with Zoe.” Joanna said, holding back tears.
A year later, Zoe, Randy and Joanna reunited with the life-saving professionals at Waukesha Memorial to thank them for their selfless effort to save their family. The afternoon had all the appearances of a family reunion. Zoe is a bright-eyed and healthy baby, who fussed a bit when all the cameras arrived to record her miraculous story.
With a little snack, Zoe’s spirit was immediately lifted.
“I just want them to know how thankful I am for everything. People were so selfless and caring here.” Joanna said of the staff at Waukesha Memorial. “They just went the extra mile. These people are truly amazing.”
During those traumatic moments, lifetime bonds were built between the Dahl family and the Waukesha Memorial family. Life perspectives also quickly changed.
“Anytime you go through an experience like this, you see life through a different lens now. I think that’s true for both of us. You just have a more positive attitude about everything,” Randy said.
The same holds true for the physicians who helped perform a miracle on Aug. 30, 2012.
“It brought all the nurses, doctors, and therapists much closer that day. We are stronger because we all made the miracle happen,” Neuman said.
Joanna and Randy chose to name their miraculous baby Zoe, because that is Greek word for "life."