By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Christie - pregnantThe nurses were careful about how to share the news with Christie Reinhardt. Lying in a hospital bed, weakened, her body might not be able to handle the full weight of the information.

She’s a Southern woman, though: no-nonsense. She insisted on knowing what had become of the twin baby girls she’d been carrying inside her the past 39 weeks.

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Christie was only 31 and seemingly in excellent health when she became pregnant with Brianna and Lydia, the names she and her husband Robert chose. They already had a young son and daughter, both born without complications.

One night late in her pregnancy with the girls, Christie developed chest pains. Robert took her to their local hospital in St. Francisville, Louisiana, about 30 miles north of Baton Rouge.

Her symptoms mimicked indigestion and heartburn, which comes with the territory when you’re pregnant. Her EKG turned out normal. She was given pain medication and sent home.

A little more than two weeks later, on Dec. 1, 2011, Christie woke up with “an acute pain right in the center of my chest.” She’d suffered an aortic dissection, a rupture in a section of her aorta that might have been tearing slowly for years. It was early morning, and she was able to squawk out a cry for her husband, who’d been sleeping down the hall.

The rupture deprived Christie and the babies of oxygen. Her lips had turned blue. Her tongue had slipped down her throat. Robert somehow was able to reach in and pull it back out. An ambulance came, and she was whisked to a hospital in Baton Rouge.

While Christie lay unconscious, both babies were removed immediately by C-section. Doctors told her family that they would try to surgically repair the torn aorta, but the operation only had about a 10 percent chance of succeeding. They gathered to say goodbye, but her sister was hopeful, insistent: She said Christie needed to be strong, for the babies.

The procedure worked. About 24 hours later, Christie woke up, groggy and not remembering what had brought her there. Robert was summoned.

“How are the babies?” she said.

“Brianna’s going to be just fine,” he said.

Not hearing the other baby’s name was a clear sign of bad news.

“What about Lydia?” she said.

“Lydia didn’t make it,” he said.

Christie didn’t ponder why Brianna had lived and Lydia had not. She had been waiting 9 months to hold Lydia, and she wouldn’t be denied that.

“I wanted her so bad, and if there was any way for some freak miracle … like I could will her back to life almost, if I just held her tight enough,” Christie said. “I don’t know how long I held her, but that was actually the only time that I ever saw my husband cry. It was when he was next to me and we were holding Lydia together.”

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Christie - BriannaBrianna was fine, but by now she was at another hospital, where medical staff had used a kind of hypothermic blanket to alleviate the seizures she was suffering.

Six days after Christie entered the hospital, she was discharged. Then she went to the other hospital to see Brianna for the first time.

“It was just like holding my other babies for the first time,” Christie says. “It felt the same: pure joy, pure love.”

On Dec. 20, Christie’s birthday, Brianna came home.

Brianna’s first birthday was a tough one. How do you put on a brave face for a little girl as she happily floats around the house in a tutu, and mourn the daughter who was lost, at the same time? Christie had a “little moment” to herself that night to remember Lydia. “But I am happier that Brianna is alive and well than I am sad about missing Lydia.”

Doctors at first feared Brianna would have developmental delays because of the time she was deprived of oxygen. However, except for a brief lag in vocabulary as a toddler, “she is very energetic, active, perfectly normal,” Christie said. She’s now 3, and chases after her brother Logan, 7, and sister Audrey, 5.

Christie-family

As for Christie’s health, she takes medication and undergoes tests every year or so to make sure the repair job on her aorta is holding up.

“No news is good news,” she said. “I shouldn’t do any strenuous activities, which wasn’t a problem for me anyway. I’m not a weightlifter. I can walk, so that’s my exercise.”

Christie also volunteers her time for many causes, including the American Heart Association. She became involved in Go Red For Women in Baton Rouge. She’s learned that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. In fact, more women die of heart disease each year than men.

Go Red For Women teaches women about their risks, and how to reduce them. More than 1.6 million women joining this movement, and 90 percent of them have made at least one lifestyle change to improve their heart health.

Through Go Red, Christie has been a keynote speaker at several events, recounting her experience for hundreds of people at a time.

“I love to share my story and bless other women by educating them about the dangers of heart disease,” she said.

Last year, her entire family participated in their local Heart Walk. Even her youngest kids — then 6 and 4 — walked a mile around the LSU campus.

Christie also paints: She received a degree from LSU in fine art, and one of her paintings is in remembrance of Lydia: A heart, in brush strokes of red and pink, with a yellow halo over it.

Christie - Lydia painting

“Audrey has taken after me, so we have fun doing that together,” she said. “But right now I’m just Mom, and that’s what I always wanted to be when I grew up, is Mom. Sweeping up Cheerios makes me happy, for the most part. I just love being at the ballpark watching my son practice baseball, I love going to dance class, to gymnastics class. I’m the Minivan Mama.

“I am a Mama at heart.”

Christie - family LSU shot

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Photos courtesy of Christie Reinhardt

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