Heart Inherited Heart Disorders Maternity Preterm Labour

A B.C. woman’s dramatic journey to motherhood

Sarah Dixon and partner Terry with babies Arthur and Charlie.

Like many worthwhile things in life, the journey to motherhood often comes laden with unexpected twists and turns.

For first-time mom Sarah Dixon, who celebrates her first Mother’s Day Sunday, the beginning of this journey involved navigating the early delivery of her twin boys while managing a complex heart-rhythm condition called catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT).

Dr. Jasmine Grewal

When the Courtenay, B.C. resident found out she was expecting, she was referred to the highly specialized Cardiac Obstetrics (COB) Clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital so her heart condition could be monitored.

“CPVT is a genetic condition where people can have life-threatening arrhythmias,” explains Dr. Jasmine Grewal, St. Paul’s cardiologist and COB Clinic Director. “And so, you become concerned that especially during the time of labour and delivery, there might be an increased (chance) of having these high-risk arrhythmias.”

A change in plans

After multiple Zoom consultations with various doctors from the clinic, the team advised Dixon and her partner, Terry, to be in Vancouver close to St. Paul’s Hospital when she hit the 33-week mark in the high likelihood the twins were born early.

Following the advice of her care team, Dixon and Terry prepared for a temporary move to Vancouver, where they’d welcome their boys, Arthur and Charlie, into the world.

“We had planned to move on January 21 so that we would be there for the delivery about a month before we expected the twins to come,” Dixon recalls. “We had our house packed up, a nursery ready, and a house sitter and a dog sitter.”

Well-laid plans were expedited when Dixon went for a routine ultrasound. It revealed that the transporting of placenta nutrients to one of her babies had slowed down, a potentially serious problem. Her care team urged them to get to Vancouver as soon as possible to receive care at St. Paul’s.

Before they knew it, Dixon and her partner were on the next ferry out of Vancouver Island.

“It was sudden. I wasn’t even meant to start my parental leave until a few weeks later. My mind was focused on getting through the process one step at a time,” Dixon recalls.

A collaborative, compassionate approach to care

Upon arriving at St. Paul’s, the couple was immediately met with kindness and understanding from the care team at the COB clinic, which helped ease Dixon’s initial anxieties about going into early labour for a caesarean-section delivery.

“I’ve been in health care situations in the past where I felt like I really had to advocate for what I needed. But I didn’t feel like that at St. Paul’s at all,” Dixon says. “Even though it was a scary situation, I felt reassured.”

For Dixon, reassurance also meant relinquishing the underlying guilt that her sons would be born prematurely. 

“When we first arrived, they asked if we had a birth plan. For me, it was just that everybody got out alive and was happy and healthy,” says Dixon. 

Four weeks in the NICU

In the two days leading up to her C-section, Dixon received frequent cardiac monitoring to ensure the healthy delivery of her two sons.

Arthur and Charlie were born on January 23, 2024. At birth, Arthur weighed three pounds, 10 ounces, and Charlie weighed three pounds, 15 ounces.

After a successful delivery, Dixon spent almost four weeks visiting babies Arthur and Charlie in the NICU.

Preparing for her first Mother’s Day

As she prepares to celebrate her first Mother’s Day, Dixon is enjoying the early days of motherhood back at home with two happy babies who are starting to smile, interact and giggle.

Dixon interacting with Charlie and Arthur at home in Courtenay.

She is deeply thankful for the care the St. Paul’s team provided. “I realized that when we had gone into delivery there would have been all these people working behind the scenes to get things ready for us,” she says. “It felt good to know that my twins were being welcomed with all this support. I’m grateful for the incredible care and that we’re all healthy.”

Story by Claire Martindale, Providence Health Care